By now you’ve probably heard about Mattel’s recall of nearly 1 million Chinese-made toys – including plastic Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters -- because their paint contains excessive amounts of lead. (Go to http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/262/story/99249.html for the full story and to http://www.service.mattel.com/us/ for a list of recalled toys.)
We don’t own any of the affected toys, but the news has almost inspired me to do my own mammoth recall of all the cheap plastic toys in our home. I don’t know how we’ve managed to accumulate so much junk: plastic party favors, plastic miniature animals and people, plastic cars and plastic trucks, plastic scooters, plastic Legos and plastic balls. My favorite toys are wooden, but they are sadly outnumbered by the ugly stuff in our house.
Here’s photo evidence from today: Will and a friend play with a large plastic scooter and plastic push toy as they hover over a jungle of little plastic toys they emptied out of a bin and played with earlier. Our house is small and our living room doubles as play room. Until clean-up time arrives each night, we tend to live in this kind of chaos.
Last year, as I read “You are Your Child’s First Teacher,” by Rahima Baldwin Dancy, a book that lays out the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, who founded the first Waldorf school, I found the idea of giving children only crude wooden toys – dolls whose faces left much to the imagination, rather than highly detailed anatomically correct Barbies for example – enticing. But Will’s play world was already littered with so much plastic that I never did anything about it. (We do have a loosely enforced ban in our house on all things battery-operated, flashing and otherwise extraordinarily obnoxious.)
Today though, as Will took the plastic orange head off one of his plastic golf clubs (from a set which cost something like $5 at Wal-Mart, I’m ashamed to admit), stuck it in his mouth and pretended it was a harmonica, I got a little nervous. I thought, that’s got to be a made-in-China toy, produced by some unknown manufacturer that may be a lot less likely to issue a well publicized toy recall than toy giant Mattel. Will handed the spit-covered orange “harmonica” to me so I could have a turn making music, and sure enough there were the three words: “Made in China.” With 80 percent of all toys made in China, that was no surprise.
Time to go outside and start carving wooden dolls and boats out of fallen tree limbs.
Still, while I like to dream romantically about a plastic-free house, if you come visit me anytime soon you’ll probably notice that I haven’t found the will power to toss 75 percent of Will’s toys (there’s probably that much plastic in our toy chest) to the curb. Just imagine the tears. Slowly and sneakily though, I may start withdrawing at least a few of them here and there.