My favorite toy growing up as a small child was a large, stuffed, neon-green frog from the Hello Kitty cavalcade of stars: Keroppi. As with many childhood moments reflected upon in adulthood, the reasons I had for choosing him over the dozens of characters HK offered isn't quite clear to me but probably made sense under kid-logic at the time: green was my favorite color, he was cartoonishly disproportionate, and he bore bright neon colors. My mom did her best to try and persuade me that the more "gender appropriate" choice was Hello Kitty, but something about the way all of HK's merchandise was so red bothered me. The red felt so obviously...girly? Keroppi's green felt fun and alive without being overwhelming.
Hello Kitty merchandise is not cheap, and I'm still not sure how my normally frugal mom managed to pull out her wallet and buy these knick-knacks and toys for me without losing her mind. Backpacks, pencils, notebooks, stationary paper, keychains (what keys could a seven year-old possibly have?), stickers (oh, the glorious stickers), and even bubble gum. I was Keroppi mad.
Of all of my merchandise, my 2-foot plush Keroppi held a special place in my heart. The outside was made of that polyester/nylon material that older women's tracksuits usually have, giving him that wrinkly but iridescent quality. His insides were the squishy type of polyester fiberfil, not the firm stuffing that rebuffs your childhood embrace. There are red stains around his "mouth" line from the time I slathered him with cherry Chapstick. When my older brother was mean to me (i.e., not letting me win at Nintendo or not allowing me to eat ice cream for lunch), I would scream and cry into Keroppi's oversized white eyeball. There are still traces of my aged and yellow tear stains on that eyeball, as if it's this beloved inanimate object's way of saying, "I remember."
Now that parenthood of my own toddler son has driven me to an appropriate and required level of insanity, I find myself obsessing over the purchase of each new toy with the following thought process:
- Is it educational?
- Is it too complicated?
- Will it stimulate him enough?
- Will it stimulate him too much?
- Am I overemphasizing one developmental area over another to his detriment?
- Am I supporting a local business?
- Have I just contributed to inhuman slave labor overseas by buying this colorful set of blocks?
I'm 100% sure that this is my son's thought process upon receiving toys:
Even though I know his play area (featured above) is full of his toys, I enjoy the way they brighten up the room. They just look fun to stack, organize, and sort. The rainbow-like quality of his play space makes it easy to want to sit down with him to draw circles and triangles using his box of 24 Crayolas.
As he gets older, he'll land on his own favorite color and demand that everything he wears and plays with revolve around it. I'll be sad the day our rainbow-laden play area gives way to 50 shades of red or blue or green, but I'm comforted by the fact that this color will help to inspire fond and vivid memories for years to come.