The public reaction to the Mattel Toy Recall is somewhat disappointing in that the focus seems mostly on the lead and the oversight process. My heart goes out to any family with a child affected by lead but it really shouldn’t surprise anyone in the slightest degree that this could happen given the way we’ve delegated our children’s’ playtime equipment to the lowest common denominators of the global economy: Retail at Walmart or Target for convenient purchase a cheap toy from a global marketing engine like Mattel and outsource the production (and likely the design) to China. Both China and Mattel need to answer for their parts in this play but this really isn’t about China - it could happen in any outsource scenario - to me the issue is that we have a part to answer for too: we’re fueling the demand for these crap plastic toys.
The lead issue should definitely be fixed but we need to stop and think about what little value these toys have in the first place and why we buy so many of them to make this such a “widespread” recall. These plastic character toys usually come with dozens of little parts that are all taped and wired - yes, if you’re a parent of young children you know what I am talking about - taped and wired with twist ties into a hard-to-open cardboard and plastic display box designed to simultaneously cause your kid to throw an “I wanna” fit when s/he sees one in the store and prevent shoplifting at the same time. I have found that tin snips or strong scissors are the only tools that can open these things, and my kids tend to lose the parts (and interest in the toy) within a week.
Not only do these toys seem geared more to propagate the power that “Diego and Dora” hold over our children than intellectual development but they are absolutely bad for the environment: I have 5 year old twins and after their birthday party earlier this year I hauled out about 2 dumpsters’ worth of wrapping and detritus from the presents they received from their friends at school. The mixed material packaging makes it tough to recycle and the two dumpsters’ worth of trash was generated from just one birthday party with about 15 kids in attendance. Each friend brought my kids one simple toy in the $10-$20 range - nothing extravagant - and that was enough to not only spoil my kids rotten but also create a mountain of crap plastic toys that I am now checking for lead paint while making a sizeable addition to our landfill.
We should stop gaping at this “unforeseen tragedy” with the lead and ask ourselves why we are buying the plastic Diego Adventure Set in the first place. Chances are we probably aren’t buying those for our own children so much as other kids as we ride the crazy birthday party circuit that has sucked in many of today’s parents - gotta get Jane’s boy Joey that price-appropriate toy lest we not reciprocate what Jane did for our Billy on his birthday last month. We’re running to Target like lemmings off a cliff, and we need to find a more constructive outlet for our good intentions.
I will be working to find a different birthday party format for our kids next year. Hopefully it will inspire other parents to consider other creative alternatives. The challenge will be that Toys-R-Us makes it really convenient to pick up that last minute gift on your way to a party for a friend of your kid: The most popular brands are there and they’re cheap. So is the wrapping and the cards. They even have gift receipts as a default option at the register. You can be in and done in 15 minutes, walking out with your end of the social obligation fulfilled - and if you bought your kid a toy too - happy offspring in tow. I have used the last minute Toys-R-Us run more than once myself.
The obligatory gifting cycle must be broken because Toys-R-Us isn’t going away and dads like me are lazy. This year we tried putting “gifts not necessary” on our invites (“gifts not wanted” seemed too arrogant) and not one family in attendance failed to bring a gift. Not one - I appreciate their generousity but really, it isn’t necessary.
I hear that birthday parties with all gifts donated to charity are becoming more popular although I don’t yet know how to convince my kids that charity gifting is a better plan for them. If anyone out there has other creative ideas, I’m listening.
As for me, my kids’ friends are getting books (or bookstore gift cards) from now on - it’s the gift that gives to the parent as well as the child. Although many of the illustrated character franchise books have artwork done in India at least the books can be recycled and will likely last more than a week.