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.

The Demolition Man…

Hollywood endings, as we all know, are limited to the movies and by our willingness to suspend our disbelief – almost never in real life. For this reason, actors, or I should say the best actors, are able to immerse themselves convincingly into various roles and personas so that we are tricked into thinking they really are who they are pretending to be. Keeping this in mind let me say that there is nothing more exciting as a parent than watching your child explore and interact with the world around them. This includes their face lighting up at a new discovery. Beaming with pride when they learn to stack the Legos so high they can’t reach the top of the stack. Learning new words and shouting them to anyone and everyone they meet on the street. Basically, accomplishing anything and everything that draws the “ooos” and “awws” from the parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents. This feat-enhancing form of parental flattering is augmented by the presence of the aforementioned audience and creates even greater performances – until the camera (or Skype video chat) stops rolling.

That is when my son’s alter ego – the Demolition Man – comes out to play and takes over from the Bob The Builder version of my son who just exited stage-left.

This newest cast member is a mix of Curious George and The Incredible Hulk with a good dose of MacGyver ingenuity sprinkled in.

The Demolition Man’s appearances all start with an eerie silence followed by a rapid succession and crescendo of audible cues such as crackling, thumping, bumping, crashing, splintering, banging etc. Long pause. Gleeful and delighted cackle. Grand finale noise combination (in no particular order) of “Whoop!” “Thump!” “Bash!” “Crack!”. Silence. More gleeful cackling. Jazz hands (OK so that is a visual cue, but I swear I can hear it!).

My wife and I exchange a sidelong glance and do a best-of-three rock-paper-scissor session before one of heads of to investigate. It doesn’t take long to get to the scene of the crime (remember we live in one of those closet apartments that are rampant throughout New York) and as it swings into view your blood starts to boil.

You try the whole “breath and count to 10…” routine, but as you take in the devastation – millions of tiny pieces of (fill-in-the-blank) are scattered, splattered, splintered, smeared across the floor, walls and ceiling – your frayed parenting nerves take a major hit. There is Demolition Man smack dab in the middle of the eye of the storm holding the last surviving piece of the Lego Firefighter House that he just pulverized, babbling away all content and satisfied with his handy work. He looks up at you with that grin, you know the one that could start a war it’s so smug, and just as you are about to have a full fledged conniption, Demolition Man is gone – vanished into thin air.

There in his place is Super Cute and Cuddly Boy and with a twinkle in his eye and that honey drip voice he looks you straight in the eyes and utters the most disarming phrase in parenthood: “Daddy?” The delivery is perfect. Timing, posture, nuance, syllabication – forget the Oscars this is the big leagues. And just like that, I find myself in that classic Hollywood ending as I scoop him up into a hug and toss him high into the air as the sun dips behind the horizon just behind him and he giggles with glee and… Hey, wait a minute!