Christmas is coming, and it’s time for grandparents to be revolting: But that doesn’t have to be bad news!
Grandchildren might not be over the moon by my suggesting that their grandparents should be revolting against the giving of toys that are sexist and/or short-lived plastic rubbish that is played with for a nanno-second in comparison with their long and indestructible life in our planet’s already overwhelming mountains of unrecyclable landfill.
And I can understand their disaffection as I’m writing this in the embarrassed awareness that I have only come to this realisation far too late in life, having given far too much of both to my grandchildren over the years.
Having now, however, seen the light, my advocacy comes with all the missionary zeal that a late convert to anything tends to have; and so I’ve decided to put it out there for other grandparents to think about.
What has driven me to raise it now are some Christmas gift suggestions for children in a recent women’s magazine.
Starting with the sexist issue, there is a page of advertisements for two expensive (if you think that $179 each is a bit rich) toys (incidentally but not coincidentally made of plastic): a bright pink and fully furnished doll’s house, being admired by a little girl, and a “Super Ultimate Garage” with fittings and cars, in bold blues and reds and almost as tall as the happy lad standing next to it.
Is any comment necessary in a world where interior decorating is a profession enjoyed by many males, and most young girls will be driving cars and some will become motor mechanics when they grow up?
But just to slot home my message, it is salutary to reflect on how an 8-year-old girl, Daliah Lee of Canberra, recently made the news because of her stand against a similar sort of sexism.
As reported in The Sun-Herald of November 4, she is boycotting Nutri-Grain after “complaining to Kellogg’s that it only put boys on its Nutri-Grain boxes when girls could ‘also do awesome things’”.
And her action, which should not have been necessary in what we consider to be the enlightened age that we’re living in, has succeeded in “forcing the cereal giant to promise it will put girls on its boxes of Nutri-Grain starting next year.”
We can only hope that those girls will be doing something more active than playing with dolls or cooking make-believe cakes.
Back to the subject of toys, after the page with the two sexist toys, the magazine has a page and a half of gift suggestions comprising 20 plastic toys, with prices ranging from $20 to an eye-watering $200, and with most of them either pink and feminine, or dark colours and masculine themes.
Of the 20, four involve physical activities (various types of sport balls, and a scooter, all in “boy” colours).
The rest, as I’ve seen far too often, are played with for a short while, and then end up in ever-growing stacks of toy boxes, until periodic clean-outs have them sold on or given away, or thrown away.
And eventually end up as damaging landfill.
So, what can we, as grandparents, do to stem or at least dilute that flow? And, at the same time, provide our grandchildren with the freedom of an equal-opportunity world?
Once you start thinking about it, the possibilities are pretty well endless, and here are just some, starting with a most enjoyable excursion that I had with a couple of my grandchildren.
This was to a charity shop that was a cornucopia of treasures, from which I asked each if they would like to choose something from us for Christmas.
One chose two excellent original paintings, now on the walls of his bedroom, and the other chose a delightful vintage lamp that is now beside her bed.
In that same shop there were some lovely (cotton) patchwork quilts, and over a period of time I chose some with themes that mirrored the interests of a couple of other grandchildren, and commissioned one with cats and kittens for a child whose favourite animal that is.
Clothes (first or second hand) are always an option, in consultation with parents as to needs, and with awareness of the designated child’s likes and interests. But, of course, made of some natural fibre (cotton, linen, silk), not synthetics (which are plastics by another name).
Then, there are all those real items, as opposed to toys – items that have a useful and longer life, like torches, easy-to-assemble tents and other camping gear (what child wouldn’t want to be able to set up their own little world in their own backyard or balcony, as well as further afield if that is a thing with their family?), musical instruments (and maybe lessons to go with them), sporting equipment (and maybe lessons to go with them), a scooter, a bike, art equipment and an easel (and art lessons?), a serving set of cutlery with their name engraved on each item, a camera, a telescope to survey the skies, binoculars to check out birds, and real cooking gear and ingredients.
I love the idea, for example, of finding a recipe for some food they love, laminating that, and getting all the required ingredients, accompanied by a quickly realised promise to make it with them first time round.
And other experiences, with or without you, depending on how mobile you are and what is accessible. To great shows, to a special treat movie, to a zoo, a museum, a sporting event, a restaurant, caves with amazing stalactites and stalagmites, a plant nursery.
Or what about piquing their interest in the joys of collecting items such as fossils, stamps, antiques, crystals and geological specimens?
It might become a lifetime passion.
And books, books, books.
Or a subscription to a children’s magazine full of stuff of interest to that child, whether it’s nature, craft, history, science, stories, puzzles, so many possibilities, and with the added pleasure of actually getting something regularly in the mail.
Or opening their minds to the needs of others less fortunate, with the donation of a goat or books in their name, and information about who will benefit from that.
What we can give is limited only by our imagination, our knowledge of our grandchildren, our capabilities, and our budget. With a combination of all of that, we can help to open up the world for them in ways that are both socially responsible and free from gendered restrictions.