I experimented this year: I took each bot to the toy store by himself, to buy a present for his brother. I realized that, with a four and a half-year-old and a three-year-old, my optimism might have been slopping over into the idealistic. But I just had to try. I figured Gbot might be fairly easy to persuade into picking out what I thought he should pick out. I thought Mbot might throw a small sputterfuss about one or several things before we settled on a compromise.
Since Gbot had the sniffles and I couldn’t foist him off on anyone, he went first. At the toy store that I hate but that is the only one within about ten miles of us, he bounced from Legos (me: “they’re for bigger boys”) to a FurReal bunny that made chewing noises and moved its hind legs when you rubbed its back (“let’s keep looking”) to bubble machines (“it’s too cold outside for that”) to the toy guns (“no”) to a giant, spherical, plush, hot pink, butt-ugly cat pillow (“let’s look at the other stuffed animals.”)
At long last, he settled, at my urging, on an enormous fluffy stuffed doggie that looks like it could be Junepbear’s half-brother. It was not stitched by a fair-trade artisan out of organic cotton. In fact, it was so affordable that I see much seam-repair in my future. But Mbot, whose favorite word at the age of sixteen months was “fwuffy,” and who continues to seek out fwuffy experiences, will be thrilled.
Gbot lugged the thing, which is as big as he is, up to the front of the store, happily talking nonstop about how Mbot would love his new doggie. It was fun to see him so happy about something for his brother. That was two days ago, and he hasn’t yet spilled the beans, in spite of the fact that this morning, we wrapped it (but only after he ran to get a blanket to spread in the bottom of the box).
Yesterday I took Mbot. As I’d predicted, it was more of a challenge. I hadn’t considered the fact that, after walking in and within fifteen seconds identifying a cool Thomas the Train quarry complete with crank elevator and roundtable, that would have been perfect and was on sale, no less–he could happily spend three days examining every item on every shelf within reach in every aisle of the eight billion acre store. Or that he would want to get his brother the six hundred-dollar four-wheeler (“that’s way too dangerous”) or the fifty-dollar plastic bat-cave that I know would provide a great seven minutes of uninterrupted fun before boredom set in and they never looked at it again. Or the remote control helicopter (“that’s for bigger boys.)”
What I didn’t foresee was how either protective he would be or how eager to assert that Gbot is a baby–every time I’d point to something that looked like a possibility, Mbot would find a health reason to boycott it. “Gbot would choke on those pieces.” “Gbot might break that and hurt himself.” “Gbot might cut his fingers on that part.”
“How about a stuffed animal?” then, I asked, because one of the ways I’d lured Gbot out of the store the day before was to tell him that maybe Mbot would buy him one, too. “Noooo!” howled Mbot. “how about we go back to the fun aisle.” And now of course I must entertain the possibility that he won’t like Junep’s giant half-bro. But distanced from the overwhelming profusion of crap, I’m quite sure he will.
What I also didn’t foresee was how I would hear myself mimicked back to me. Every few minutes, if I was lingering in an aisle with appropriate items, I’d here, “Mah-ah-ahhm. Don’t diddle-dawdle.”
“Okay, I’m coming,” I’d say, in a reversal of roles.
If he’d vanish around a corner and I didn’t follow, he’d backtrack and admonish me to stay close.
And once, as we were perusing the remote control aisle, I must have been lagging, because he suddenly said, “Come-come,” using exactly the same word in exactly the same sing-song tone I use to call the antique cat.
Finally, I enacted a “choose one of these two things,” rule, and a time-limit of two minutes. He chose. The Thomas the Train Quarry won out.
So: success. Except that now Gbot keeps talking about a remote control stuffed doggie and Mbot keeps wondering what toy Gbot got him.
One reason I even let the boys do this, in addition to the “Christmas is about giving” angle, and instead of making something or visiting the dollar store–is that the bots don’t get piles of toys for Christmas. I see them playing more happily with the Trios, or with pipecleaners, or with their small bin of Legos, or their stuffed animals or blankets for forts or plastic bin lids for television screens–than I ever see them play with actual plastic toys.
And it was a good reminder to me, hearing Mbot repeat back to me my own words, that lots of times, you get what you give.