Friday, January 11, 2008

toxic toys

"when the world is running down,
you make the best of what's still around."

this holiday season i've felt like scrooge or the grinch or burger meister meister burger when it comes to the endless stream of toy recalls.

since just about every toy seems to come from china, it makes them all suspect. we could wait until a consumer advocacy group decides to test the toys that we actually have or until the companies announce a recall, or we could test for lead ourselves. unfortunately, the the us consumer product safety commission ( has declared that home testing kits are unreliable.

so what's a concerned parent to do? should we wait until consumer groups get around to randomly testing the toys that we actually have at home? should we wait for the companies to announce a recall and hope that our children will be alright in the meantime? should we get rid of all of the toys? here are some practical suggestions:

i have not gotten around to the inventory of all of the toys in our house. yikes. god forbid that i get rid of something that my daughter will miss. she's still upset about the purple golf ball that has disappeared. still, i don't want her to get caught up in the toxic materialism.

i need to simplify. certainly, we do not need all of the piles of stuff that folks feel obliged to buy during the holidays. it's the thought that counts; and yet it makes me uneasy when i think that there are folks all over the world fighting to survive against hunger, disease, and oppression.

my problem is that i'm a hoarder. i love recycling and reusing and...yes, even regifting. i don't like to throw things away. our basement is filled with things that we might need someday. i love my stuff. i have more books than i can read and more music than i have time; and still i pine for things that have been lost, broken, or misplaced along the way.

and then there's the newest latest. we all get caught up in the hype machine that tries to tell us what we need. there is a restlessness that burns in our guts that cannot be sated by the promise of the product. all too often i have felt the buyer's remorse over some disappointing new purchase. even if i really enjoy a new album or sweater or toy, i eventually get bored with it and seek out something new.

a lot of the things that are dangled in front of us are only a distraction from the things that really matter. i think that the toy recalls are really a wake up call for us. we all know somewhere deep down inside that the industry that fuels our economy is not sustainable. our convenient disposable culture makes for a disposable world.

a depressing sight this time of year is the piles of dead christmas trees ready to be carted off to the local landfill. it has always struck me as strange that we celebrate the season of life by killing a tree. that's why i prefer to use an artificial one. i know that there are folks that make their living by growing and selling real trees, and that they must have some usefulness; and yet i still have that initial reaction of disappointment whenever i see them.

"shine on what we throw away. shine on what we keep." one man's trash is another man's treasure, though it takes a special self-abnegation to dig through dumpsters and landfills. it's hard to imagine what value toxic toys might have. at the very least they can serve as a cautionary tale. perhaps the people that will survive in our increasingly toxic environment are ones who have developed a resistance to the nasty chemicals.

i can't help but smile when shuggie gets all excited about playing with the cardboard tube left over from a roll of wrapping paper or a bucket of snow. it gives me hope for the future.