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Monday, March 16, 2009

Giving them more by giving them less?

Our youngest son is obsessed with the 1968 film adaptation of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He asks to watch the film daily, and has had more than a few days with two or more viewings. He has named one of his Matchbox cars "Chitty" (it's an old-timey open-top...close enough). He has renamed a large toy dump truck "Chitty" and runs around pushing it.

He builds entire fleets of elaborate (and wonderfully symmetrical) "Chitty cars" out of the toddler-sized Lego blocks.

And he has his "spinning sticks", which started as two scrap sections of dowel rod but have also manifested as small branches, pencils, or whatever is on hand. The idea there is that he is Chitty, as represented by his propellers.

When my husband found an online listing for a replica model of the car, he sent me the URL. My first thought, as was his, was...OMG THIS IS SO INCREDIBLY COOL!! I sent a quick reply indicating my desire to purchase this for our son's upcoming third birthday.

Then I started thinking.

Yes, the toy is really cool. Yes, as parents we love the thought of fulfilling their dearest fantasies and love having the ability to do so. But if they have already successfully (and contentedly) filled that need with creativity and imagination, do they really *need* the actual item? What's more, would giving them the actual item actually backfire and stifle said creativity and imagination?

I went through this same question at Christmas time, when this same child was intensely interested in Wall*E. I decided to not get him a licensed Wall*E action figure because he had already reassigned another toy for that purpose. It was a boxy Tonka construction vehicle that does actually look remarkably similar to the little trash compacting robot. (At least, the triangular wheel arrangement warrants some comparison!)
He was perfectly happy with HIS Wall*E. And what's more, that toy had been a gift to reflect his ongoing fascination with construction equipment and (perhaps because of its unrealistic shape and proportions) was never played with for that purpose. He continued to use older, broken diggers and wouldn't touch this thing. Until he realized that it was Wall*E. And so, it is.

While my mind did the back-and-forth on the Chitty issue, my husband emailed a reply...and said exactly what I had been thinking.
If we do then his imagination for all the legos he builds and his dump truck may change and he won't call all his toys Chitty. So I'm torn.

Isn't it reassuring when parents find that they're actually (gasp!) on the same page? :)

At this point, I'm looking for a Chitty Chitty logo on a T-shirt, assuming I can find one small enough. (He's a size 3-4, the smallest I've found is a if you know of one, please let me know!!) I have ordered a vintage children's book targeted toward his age level as well. (He asked me a few weeks ago to read him the book, and he was a real trouper for a handful of pages but it's just not time for chapter books yet!)

I would feel/act differently if he hadn't designated a surrogate. His 5 year old brother has received a number of toys to reflect his intense interests...from sharks to bats and beyond. But even he has shown a preference for the "found" and "made" rather than the purchased. A recent example was a light-up, telescoping light saber that we gave him for his birthday. He loves sword-play with his 17 year old cousin (who is a rather good sport about such things), and this cousin is way cool because of the collection of toy swords at his house. So I bought the really cool sword. And it lies broken at the bottom of the toy box, and our son happily fights the neighbor boy with fallen branches.

So, while I am not categorically opposed to materialism and can totally appreciate a cool toy, if there is a choice to be made I will go with imagination more often than not.

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