by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
December 12, 2006
MORE DOES NOT MEAN BETTER
ST. SIMON ISLAND, Ga. -- The checkout line was growing but customers moved along quickly. The associate - as sales clerks are called now - was a bright and bubbly girl with a brass name tag identifying her as Julie. She appeared to be a high school student working her first after-school job, and she couldn't be happier. It was contagious; she smiled, the customers smiled, the transactions ran smoothly and genuine harmony filled the air on this day when everyone was shopping for just the right things to buy for their family and friends.
"Oh, your granddaughter is just going to love this," Julie said
sincerely, "I'll bet they didn't have dolls like this when you were a
little girl." The doll was one that came with diapers, and baby
bottles you could fill with water, and she actually wet her pants! (I
say "she" because dolls come anatomically correct these days.)
"No," I said, as pleasantly as I could considering I told myself I would never resort to "the good old days" in conversations. As Julie rang up the transaction on her computerized cash register - which also communicated with a warehouse somewhere in the country reducing the inventory by one - I allowed myself to daydream of my baby doll when I was Caroline's age.
My doll didn't wet her diaper, which would not have been disposable anyway, but a birds-eye cloth that would have to dry on a clothes line where it would freeze before drying in cold December winds. No, that would not have been a plaything for me. But my doll could open and close her eyes, her beautiful, shiny, blue eyes. When I placed her in her doll carriage, her eyes closed and the lashes framed her eyelids in a wonderfully peaceful way. When I picked her up, her eyes opened and I could almost see her smile. I spent our first hour together with my sitting her up, then placing her down: open, shut, open shut. That was enough reality for me to play Mommy all day with tender love and warmth.
Julie interrupted my thoughts by suggesting other things for a child that age. She was very sincere but I knew with every "add on" she suggests that turns into a sale, her commissions would grow. The experience was pleasant enough for me to let her continue suggesting.
Every single item she showed me was to be a learning experience. The Cookie Set was subtitled counting cookies. I learned to count with clothes pins. Of course they weren't edible but neither are the plastic disks in the Cookie Set.
Everything this Christmas is a learning experience, but it's canned - not one that comes just by living. I'm certainly not against teaching aids but I've learned how important it is to discover things for yourself. There are still toy manufacturers who sell products designed for just that; but, for the most part, shelves in the super stores with the low-priced-ticket items are aiming for the glitz of Christmas. And, they're selling the glitz as a substitute for the real thing.
The kids don't mind. They like the bright colors and the crinkly wrappers. At age two, they don't know that you have to turn off the battery-operated toy when you turn to something else. The battery goes dead; they learn then because a parent will tell them you have to turn it off. They think "dumb me." That's the wrong lesson. At four you can tell the child and he'll know what to do.
We're trying to expand the intelligence quotient and forgetting the importance of the gradual steps it takes to get there. So, for Julie I decide not to burst her bubble of joy - outwardly it's exactly what the Christmas spirit is: peace on earth to men of good will. She smiles at me, I'll smile right back. But in my heart I'm saying, no, dear lighthearted Julie, I do not wish I had these toys when I was a little girl.
Just then, Julie reached beneath the counter shelf and showed my a huge box of pink-and-blue-colored ruffles and netting and a diamond tiara and shiny shoes with feathers and - well, glitz. The contents were a full outfit of clothing only a real live princess would wear. It was designed for a girl of four or five. Julie said she was holding it for another customer but wanted me to see it. "They have a few left on the back wall in the toy department."
Well, I have to admit, Julie got to me! I remembered wearing my mother's dresses, high heels, hats and more - lipstick smeared on my lips, perfume sprayed all over, and every inch of me felt like a movie star as I traipsed around, holding the long dress above my ankles so I wouldn't trip. I wish, I truly wish, there were a box like this under the tree when I was a little girl.
I handed Julie my charge card, thanked her for my package and receipt, stepped away from the service station and turned toward the back shelves in the toy department. I saw that the costume came in lavender. Oh, that's a good sign, it's her favorite color. But, wait a minute, what's this? A yellow ball gown? Clear-colored pumps? Is it possible? Is that - Cinderella? Are those glass slippers? Is that the picture book telling the story I knew and loved so well? All of a sudden the garish glitz was transformed into "make believe."
I can hear my own voice at age five: "Do you want to play make-believe?"
AR Correspondent Constance Daley is based on St. Simons Island, Ga. She has just published her third collection of articles for AR, "Sidewalks and Sand," available from www.amazon.com.