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Nina In New York: Good News, Toys Are Still Just Toys

Toy Fair Preview (credit: WLNY)

Toy Fair Preview (credit: WLNY)

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
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By Nina Pajak

Last week, NYC hosted the 2014 Toy of the Year Awards! Very exciting stuff, as I had no idea awards season extends to the East Coast given our red carpet prohibitive weather.

You could say I’ve become a bit of a toy connoisseur, at least among the 6-12 month set. My interest as a parent is twofold. First, I enjoy finding toys for my baby that will keep her delighted and absorbed. I want to buy her all the things. I love seeing her get involved in a new object, particularly when it means that she will:

a) Sit still and entertain herself for more than four consecutive minutes without getting into something that will very likely cause grave bodily injury and/or death.

b) Stop playing the same song on the same toy four hundred times in a row.

Second, I now entertain myself by playing with her toys. I stack things in rainbow order and fix all the bead mazes so that they’re all evenly distributed. I try to teach myself scales on her little 36-key piano and attempt to pick out songs I hear by ear (I’m getting close to fluidly playing “Happy Birthday!”).

So I was really excited to read about the winners of the Toy of the Year awards. Unfortunately, only one prize is given to toys for children 36 months and under, and that went to a new Elmo doll who gives hugs and puts himself down for a nap and sings and junk. Sounds cute, and V is into that high-pitched, furry, red monster, but I have an 18-year-old Tickle Me Elmo in my childhood bedroom who still seems to do the trick. Sure, instead of laughing and giggling he wordlessly seizes for several minutes, but he says “Oh Boy” clear as a bell and she loves him.

The toy that seems to have won the most awards is something called a Rainbow Loom, which is a plastic loom that allows kids to make bracelets, fun, and memories to last a lifetime using average awesome little multicolored rubber bands. It’s sort of like those cotton loops loom kits we used to use to make neon potholders meets Silly Bandz meets lanyard jewelry. And marketing genius.

There’s also a game which involves trying not to pop a balloon as you stick it with pins, something having to do with the Despicable Me animated film franchise, a robotic “pet” dog, and the now famous GoldieBlox, which won a consumer’s choice award.

Honestly, I’m sort of shocked that the world of toys hasn’t progressed very far in all these years. I mean sure, there are way more toys with literal bells and whistles and flashing lights and internet connections and Artificial Intelligence and the capability to learn and get smarter as you feed them personal information. At Babies ‘R’ Us the other day, my husband and I found ourselves wandering, glassy-eyed, at a loss as to how to spend a $10 gift card our baby had been given for Valentine’s Day. Do we get her this weird dog who sings Mozart tunes and giggles? Or this hot pink cell phone? Or this thing that looks miraculously similar to our television remote? We settled on a plastic hammer that counts to five in English and Spanish, in an effort to diversify her collection.

But all that jazz aside, at the end of the day, it’s the same old stuff. Little kids like Elmo. Big kids like action figures, board games, and to make junky jewelry to wear from their wrists to their elbows and swap with friends so that they may proudly display their popularity.

For now, I’m thankful that the toys that grab my daughter’s attention the most are things like washed out yogurt containers and a box of tissues. As she gets older, she’ll no doubt request more complex things, and I’m sure she’ll be dying for the next generation of loom toy in whatever form it takes. I’m just heartened by the thought that I have a good chance of understanding what it is I’m buying her. Plus, I can’t wait to make me some bracelets. Think she’ll let me? I don’t care. I’m not asking permission.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!