Editor's column: The first year means toys we can understand

I’m looking forward to the best Christmas in years due to my new grandson and the fact I can understand his toys and play with them myself.

At eight-months of age, little Joe is about ready for my favorites: The pole that you stick plastic donuts of descending size over; simple wooden blocks; and the wooden hammer and peg set.

These are still my favorite toys because I can see how they are made and understand how to use them. Even as a little kid I could figure them out without much help. The donuts were OK but there wasn’t much you could do with them, except vary the order and make the whole thing gently wobble over. Blocks were more fun, because they didn’t require much thinking at all. Just pile them up and knock them over. What could be more fun and less frustrating? But the hammer and pegs were best. I’ll never forget banging the dozen colorful pegs through their holes and thinking, is that all there is? Well, Peggy Lee was wrong, because someone showed me you could turn the thing over and hammer the pegs back the other way. Something this simple and noisy can keep a kid occupied for hours.

My grandson will probably be thinking I’m a genius as I show him all these marvelous things. He won’t begin to question my intelligence until the next level of toys, which include Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs and Legos. You’re supposed to attach these together in certain ways that result in something that looks like the picture on the box they came in. The manufacturers pay MIT engineers to create impressive edifices to picture on the container cover, not realizing that it makes generations of kids feel like morons when they can’t come close to duplicating the picture. Frustrated, they go back to hammering pegs until they finally graduate from high school, go to college and major in communications.

So my image as a genius in little Joe’s eyes will be short-lived, measured in months, not years. Through the years I could never fix a bike once it broke, my Erector Set skills maxed out at a bridge consisting of four pieces of metal, I couldn’t Pong as well as I could play real ping-pong, and I could never get the Mario Brothers to find enough golden coins, so I quit video games entirely while they were still in their infancy.

I’m looking forward to little Joe clapping his hands in delight and looking at me admirably as he plays with the toys he’s getting for Christmas. Hopefully, we’ll get some great pictures of the little guy. That, unfortunately, poses another problem. I miss the brainless cameras like the Kodak Instamatic. You would point and click, simple as that. When the grandson came along we purchased a digital camera with a brain of its own. You point, you push the button when the baby is smiling brightly, and then the camera starts to think: “Do I recognize this face, is it in focus, is the image stabilized, is the subject smiling?” By the time the camera decides to actually take the picture the kid’s eyes are shut and he’s got four fingers stuck up his nose.

Before Christmas, I’ll dig through the junk drawer for my old film camera to make sure I don’t miss those precious moments when the baby and I are on the same toy skill level. By next year, I’ll be hopelessly behind. But at least I’ll have a picture with his eyes open.

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