Reliving the holidays of yore with my inner child…

This holiday season is going to be as fun as it will be stressful. We have decided to stay in New York do avoid the craziness of running around for a few days in Rome trying to visit as many relatives as possible. Actually, it is more about chauffeuring our son around to be coddled and spoiled while we sit in the corner and wait to bring him to the next relative’s home, but that is just a detail. So we are going to set up shop at home and it will be the first time he can appreciate it. In our house that means an advent calendar, a tree (the debate rages about fake or real) and thanks to my son’s current obsession Frosty the Snowman and the Gingerbread Man in some shape or form. This also means that there will be an overly excited little boy running around the house each time one of these objects appears and there will be a great deal or ripping, tipping, spilling and all the other standard fare just multiplied and magnified by the novelty of it all.

Nonetheless, who can help themselves when their kid’s eyes go wide with surprise and twinkle with delight to see new and curious objects? So I was actually excited when I spoke to BJ’s Wholesale Club recently as they put together their holiday gift guide, because one holiday classic was in there and I could already see my son sitting at the table with me and my wife building it together. I actually ran downstairs when their package was dropped of at my building and I peaked inside on the way up in the elevator to make sure that it was indeed what I expected. Imagine the corniest of holiday movies where the sun glints off the top of a desired object and the protagonist gets a goofy smile and the credits roll with chirping in the background. So all of that minus the sun and the credits rolling since I was in an elevator. My Gingerbread House had arrived. You’re right, how egocentric of me: My son’s Gingerbread House had arrived.

I don’t think I have had one since I was a kid. I carefully laid every piece out on the table with my son excitedly pointing at each piece and naming them or inventing names for them depending on whether or not he had seen or eaten it before. I started to explain to my son how the pieces when put together would look like the box they came in. I did not tell him the part where I really was just hoping it would not fall apart or look like, well, a toddler made it. He looked rather skeptical and I can’t blame him, but after a few seconds he just pointed at the gumdrops and asked: “Candy?”

Indeed that is candy I answered and there went those great big wide eyes.

“Candy! Daddy more candy please?!” (it’s always more even when he hasn’t had any yet).

Because I felt this project near and dear to me I tried to reason with my 2.5 year old son, which is really quite silly of me. I told him how daddy had built them when he was a little boy and how it would be all neat looking with icing and candy canes and he could show his friends and…

“No Daddy! I want candy!!! Candy Daddy… pleeeeeassse!”

Right, so as I was saying these pieces have to be stuck together so we can build this house.

“No Daddy! Candy! Mommy, mommy… candy pleassse?!”

As the situation degenerated my son started to horde the gumdrops and candy canes. I was able to save Mrs. Gingerbread from a deadly tug of war unscathed and with her fixed smile still intact.

I finally gave him a gumdrop to appease the beast and he contentedly sucked on it and pointed at his mouth curled up in a victorious grin.

“Candy Daddy! I have candy!”

I knew I did not have much time so I pumped the icing furiously to build the sides and the roof. Icing flew everywhere as I worked like a mad sculptor in the throws of a creative epiphany. I worked the gumdrops into the roof and the little colored sugar beads onto the window frames and the door. I filled out the Gingerbreads and stuck on the candy canes. My son started to get excited too and pointed at the house and all the gleaming candy until he realized that it was no longer within his reach. By then it was too late. The masterpiece was finished and I dropped back into my seat exhausted and spent after having unleashed my inner child and novice architect. I did not hear my son’s pleading for more candy, all I saw was my glorious creation. I was a child again and even my wife who walked in on the scene said so as she shook her finger at me and picked up my son who was in full tantrum mode because of the gumdrop sugar rush and consequent negation of another dose by his father. A true holiday moment thanks to yours truly.

New toys for your inner child…

I was very excited a few weeks ago to get an invitation to Time To Play Magazine’s – Spring Summer 2010 Showcase. After watching Jim Silver and Chris Byrne of Time To Play Magazine talk about some of the new toys coming in the next few months, I was able to get some face-to-face time with the companies.  More than 20 leading toy and family entertainment companies were there and I wanted to give you a brief list of some of the toys that really got my inner child excited. Let’s face it, part of the fun of being parents is regressing to your childhood without looking like complete fools. Just make sure your kids are around for cover!

I went straight to the table with the most bubbles. I love bubbles and so does my son. It was one of the first words he could say and they make him laugh contagiously so they are at the top of my fun list. Little Kids had several new bubble toys that really caught my eye. First and foremost the combo bubble maker flashlight. I could really see my son running around with it giggling contentedly as the bubbles envelop him. You can find a great selection of Little Kids products at BJ’s Wholesale Club at their usual great prices and you can stock up so you have enough bubbles to last you through the year!

Disney had a great selection of new toys, but one product really stood out for me. With so much interactivity “necessary” these days for toys the Pook-A-Looz plush created by Disney’s in-house toy design team was really a refreshing idea in the sea of lights and sounds that we have gotten used to as parents. They have a great selection from a cast of characters from some of the great children’s stories and cartoons.

One of the most exciting for me of all the licensed products was Jazwares (a family run business for a change) that has revisited the A-Team of my youth. As I said before this is just as much about my inner child as it is about my son! I was skeptical about the new cast of characters, but I have to say they seem to have chosen wisely and if I am lucky enough to get a night off I will try to catch the movie and see if today’s A-Team still gives me the same thrill as they did back in the days.

The next product I saw was Street Surfing’s new Whiplash scooter. My son is still fumbling with his three-wheeled scooter, but his daredevil side I am sure would appreciate this interpretation of the Whiplash. I am glad, though, that he is not there yet so that I don’t need to worry about yet another way for him to run away from us in the park!

MEGA Brands was displaying its always impressive selection of toys for all ages. In particular, for toddlers like my son, there was a really great on-the-go Thomas and Friends box which considering how compact it is, makes for an impressive setup when open and assembled.

I then mosied over to Mattel which seemed to have quite a lot going on for older kids until I got closer and found the ultimate toy for my truck and car obsessed (at least in his current phase) son: the Big Rig Buddies. Basically the truck stands on its hind wheels and starts chomping on Matchbox cars that you feed it. The kicker for me is that it poops the car after an audible farting noise. OK. So most of the moms just went “Gross!” just like my wife did when I told her in my “hyper excited kid voice”. Whatever. Girls don’t get it. The dads get it so, yeah. It was cool. It’s a guy thing.

Hasbro had an Iron Man 2 helmet that I am not ashamed to admit that I was totally bummed they did not have it in my size. It was very cool with battle sounds and everything. You can even get the energy core to clip on to your shirt. My wife shook her head when she heard that one. Yeah, lot’s of head shaking. Muttered something about having two kids in the house. Weird because last I checked we only have a son.

Something kept flying by with a couple of kids running after it and when I looked up I saw what looked like a mini-UFO flying around. I looked to see who was controlling it with a remote, but found no one so I just followed what turned out to be the Air Hog Vectron Wave back to the Spin Master table. After explaining to me how it works with multiple sensors placed beneath it to keep it in the air and how after a certain height it knows to come back down I sort of shrugged and thought to myself that however it was doing it I just wanted one because it was totally cool. So I started then and there to outline my excuse for needing to get one that would be semi-plausible for my wife (yeah, I know, Good Luck!).

I kept PLAYMOBIL and Lego for last, because they are such a big part of my childhood. Whenever as a kid I was in Italy on family vacations all of my cousins and friends had PLAYMOBIL and I remember how badly I wanted their pirate ship, but in the New York only FAO Schwarz carried some PLAYMOBIL and in those days FAO Schwarz was a “premium” toy store. Much more accessible in the US of course were my Legos. I used to use them to build forts for my little plastic green soldiers.

Although I have to take all the small pieces away for now since my son is still in the habit of putting things in his mouth, there was a fire truck that PLAYMOBIL was showcasing that was awesome. The way PLAYMOBIL can keep such simple and clean designs on their toys and still have so much detail always impresses me. Lego as always finds ways to add creativity within their existing “building block” structures and they had some great additions to their Harry Potter licensed products.

I left content as can be, having regressed for a few hours and played with all these incredibly fun toys. Of course in the world of “gender specific” toys all of the above lacks a lot of the pink and frills that having a girl would have inevitably forced me to write about (then again I am told I used to love tea time with my sister’s dolls so it’s all relative). Luckily, I have a son and therefore have a rock solid excuse for neglecting those toys. Oh wait, my wife reminds me I have a niece. Uhm, well yes that is true. OK. So next time I promise I’ll talk about the frilly stuff. In the meantime, my inner child (or rather the little boy inside my head) looks forward to many of these toys hitting the stores soon and I will just have to remember that I am really buying them for my son to play with. Cross my heart.