[Reposted from 2005]
Saturday’s National Post ran an article by Style At Home editor Yuki Hayashi called “Retro Chic is Child’s Play.” Subtitle: “Old-fashioned housewares, toys and clothing are the hot thing for mom and dad’s stylish newbie [baby].” The gist of it (with apologies because I can’t link to it) is that Bob the Builder wallpaper borders are passe in nurseries; chandeliers and refurbished dressers are in; plastic toys are out, “golden age” 1920's-style toys are in. But only if you have the money to buy them. (Mama Squirrel’s main feeling about this nursery-retro thing is that possibly the decorators haven’t actually lived with children very much; crib blankets made of antique chenille don’t sound like they’d survive more than one good upset stomach.)
Mama Squirrel knows she should be delighted to hear that companies like T.J. Whitney’s Traditional Toys are producing things like hardwood ABC blocks, and that stores like Toronto’s Kolkid are selling them (although as the store owner says in the article, “These aren’t Wal-Mart prices.”). As her friend the Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room has pointed out (see here), there are many advantages to natural materials, simple toys, things carefully chosen and worthy of being passed down to future generations. Things that biodegrade, things that have educational value, things that are fun.
However, like anything else, the cost of this trendiness puts it out of the realm of most of us single-incomers, at least in its upscale incarnation. The Squirrel family does live near an educational/alternative toy store (although not as funky a place as the stores in Toronto). Some of the toys there are very good and affordable, others fall into the grandparents-only category. Handmade hardwood blocks would be nice if we had a couple of hundred extra dollars for them...ironically though, the squirrelings still play with a tubful of pine blocks that Grandpa Squirrel cut in his workshop about thirty years ago. (They make great beds and tables for the squirrelings’...ugh...collection of plastic troll dolls. Definitely not Retro Chic.) We do have some alphabet blocks, too, but they came from the dollar store and were bought because we needed to spell somebody's name on a birthday cake. How about the squirrelings’ much-used tubs of Duplo and Lego? Mama Squirrel knows quite well that those are not made of natural materials and that they would probably hurt the sensibilities of the trendoids (not to mention their feet if they stepped on a lost piece). But they do have a place in the Treehouse (usually all over the floor).
The main ingredient that seems to be missing in all this trendiness, is the creativity and fun of doing and making these things yourself. (Oh please...like back to The Waltons? No, really. Besides, this is where ANYBODY can do this just as well as the Trendoids, even if the toy budget is miniscule.) Two of the squirrel girls have handmade rag dolls that their Grandma Squirrel made them (with dresses to match some of their own). The Apprentice has made model “cub cars” with Mr. Fixit (one of them won a championship race a few years ago). The squirrelings have made Barbie dresses, things for their dollhouse, and put together battery-powered gizmos like a flashing headband. (Mr. Fixit can always make those books of science experiments work.) Ponytails has knitted herself a hairband and is busy right now learning to boondoggle (see her post below).
Our young squirrels are not short on toys. They have classic books and things to use their imaginations with (even if they're plastic). They have homemade things we've improvised (or they have, which is even better). They also have a Dora the Explorer backpack, a beeping plastic cash register, an assortment of Barbies, and the aforementioned plastic trolls. The squirrel philosophy is that it is better to have things that you like, that get used, and that mean something, than to worry about how they fit the decor.
And in Mama Squirrel’s final opinion, it is more fun to crochet a puppet yourself than to buy it in a funky store on Queen Street West.