I’m not the kind of person that hangs around the baby section in out-of-town toy stores with my dad but recently I found myself doing just that. Don’t ask me why but there we were, slowly making our way around the brightly lit aisles of a well-known mass-market children’s superstore. Every row was packed from floor to ceiling with board games, plastic figures, bikes, building kits, water pistols, swords, dolls, balls, hoops, and a plethora of objects which likely bring intense joy to the world of an eight-year-old child.
While there were moments of nostalgia, my overriding sensation was one of nausea. The combination of intense strip lighting and a strong smell of plastic was likely a contributing factor. I was also conscious that we were two adults in a toy shop without a child in sight.
I should add at this point that my companion was not a quiet one. Such was the shock of what 50 years of inflation have done to Lego prices, for example, that this was something that could not go unnoticed. Cries of “How much?!” and “What even is it?” echoed around me. I tried to make a move away from him, thought I’d lost him around the tricycle section, but soon enough he appeared again as I approached the buggies.
A friend of mine has just given birth to her second child so I tried to focus on the positives: we were now in the baby area. Here was a chance to think about what gift I wanted to buy her. Perhaps, among all the plastic and pink, there might be something interesting?
Loudmouth, on the other hand, was in shock and keen to verbalise it. How in less than thirty years had the market for baby products increased so exponentially? How could a new parent possibly differentiate between what was superfluous and a necessity?
I wanted the chorus of complaint to stop but I was also drawn to his storytelling. Beyond this angry monologue, he was actually sharing his experiences of life as a young parent. This passing of knowledge and wisdom from one generation to another felt like a ritual. And as we turned our next corner, I realised he was right.
In front of us was the “Soothing Centre”. Why hold your baby when this has three seat and recline positions, six swing speeds and soothing vibration setting, an mp3 connection and 15 pre-recorded melodies and nature sounds? Oh and don’t forget the adjustable canopy, detachable toy and removable play tray.
At that moment I realised that when it comes to children, less is more. I joined the chorus. “What even is this?” I asked before making my way to the exit, wondering if anywhere nearby stocked hand-crafted wooden toys.
Katie Bilboa is a producer for Monocle 24.