when your kid wants almost nothing for Christmas

Well, Mr. T did want a few things. He wanted a copy of Wall-E, his favorite-ist movie ever—which he got from his grandparents. And he wanted a science kit.

 “I don’t want any toys,” he told me. “I have too many toys and I don’t even play with them all.”

It’s true. He doesn’t play much with toys, although he plays all day long. It’s interesting: when he plays, he becomes immersed in his imaginary world—toys and things are mere props, of secondary importance.  He might whiz a plastic knight around the family room; he might just as likely whiz around a bent paperclip or some Monopoly money. The play isn’t about the thing in his hand; it’s about the world in his mind.

H and Lulu always had vibrant imaginations. Still, if I’m remembering right, it seems like their play was more grounded in what they played with. H was a great builder of Legos, and he played at them for hours. There was always a new set he wanted, come Christmas or birthdays. Lulu had her dolls, her dress-up clothes, her toy kitchen. (Gender-predictable, I know, but that’s what she liked.) And she was always happy to get more.

But as much as you’ve got to love a kid who doesn’t covet more stuff, it did put me in a quandary. Because Mr. T’s seven, and when you’re seven there ought to be something to play with on Christmas morning. And a science kit doesn’t quite make for instantaneous fun.

I thought and I thought. Then I remembered his big bag of clay wads. It’s a mess of mixed-up colors, yet he pulls it out again and again and plays at the kitchen table. He has few discarded Pokemon figures from H and they go into the clay and under the clay and propel out from the clay, with many sound effects. Mr. T cuts the clay into bits with his little-kid scissors, attaches the bits to the Pokemon guys, and, of course, inadvertently scatters them across the kitchen floor.

The clay, I thought! It’s hard and it’s old and it’s been forever since I made Mr. T a batch of play dough. And those old Pokemon figures! A few weeks before, Mr. T and I had brought some of those toys he doesn’t play with to the local consignment shop. Before we left, Mr. T had chosen, for a dollar, a bag of four tiny Digimon figures. Now Mr. T knows nothing about Digimon, but the figures were small and wacky-looking and he lost himself in them for the rest of the day.

Suddenly I knew just what Mr. T needed for Christmas.

I rustled up a set of thirty little Digimon figures. I made a big double batch of play dough. At Thanksgiving, my teacher friend Janet had mentioned the wondrous tip of kneading unsweetened Kool-Aid powder into homemade play dough. Not only did that make the dough into Mr. T’s favorite colors of orange and pink, it also made it smell like yummy, totally fake, Kool-Aidy oranges and cherries. I pulled out a giant plastic canister that I’ve been saving for years from who-knows-what-anymore and built a big pink and orange mountain inside. Then I placed the Digimon figures in their new fruity world.

mr t's world o' fun

And did Mr. T like it? Why yes he did, if playing with it most every day since Christmas counts for anything. Which means that I now have Digimon figures perpetually scattered across my kitchen table, and bits of orange and pink play dough squished into my floor.

his guys, his hands

play dough world

in his own world

But I also have the satisfaction of knowing that I came up with something for the kid who wanted almost nothing.

6 comments… add one
  • Kathy Jan 8, 2009 @ 12:22

    Terrific post! My son plays much the same way, sort of around his stuff.

  • melissa s. Jan 8, 2009 @ 17:31

    plus, it reinforces that well known fact that mama always knows best 🙂 i’ll have to try out the koolaid trick. i’ve been worried that my kids would want to eat it, but i guess one mouthful of playdough would cure that pretty quickly!

  • susan Jan 9, 2009 @ 10:12

    I love the photo of Mr. T reaching into the jar with that big grin on his face. And it is so great that he can still have so much fun with a paper clip. Greta is like that. But she is a lot younger. An enduring imagination is such a gift.

  • stefaneener Jan 10, 2009 @ 15:59

    This is terrific. And you showed a lot of imagination too. Not just play dough and figures, you gave them context and play-ability. It’s easy to see where he got it.

  • patricia Jan 12, 2009 @ 9:12

    All of you who commented have little ones too. We’re lucky to have such imagination bubbling throughout our homes! Mr. T’s our youngest, and I’m already mourning the fact that this phase of his imagination will change before long.

  • suzee Jan 12, 2009 @ 22:20

    What a wonderful post. You and your son are both brilliant.

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