Child’s Play

Child’s Play

Just had to mention this good opinion piece in the New York Times that addresses the panic over the Chinese leaded toys:

Parents are in distress, but there may be an answer that is better than despair and less expensive than a wholesale conversion to an American-made inventory. It requires a leap of faith, a basic trust in our children�s rubbery and hungry minds. Might it not be possible, for a young child, anyway, to fend off her inevitable molding into a loyal consumerist, and to delay the acquisition of acute brand-recognition skills?

Maybe she doesn�t need a talking dump trunk or Barbie with the Malibu beach house. Let her flail on a saucepan with a wooden spoon. Give her paper and crayons. Let her play to her own narrative, not Dora the Explorer�s or SpongeBob�s.

And if kindly grandparents, uncles and aunts insist on bestowing the latest and shiniest processed toy, smile and be grateful � it�s the thought that counts � and put it out later with the recyclables: the warranty and instruction booklet with the paper, and the doll or car with the plastic. But save the cardboard box.

Personally, I think the final suggestions are a bit draconian. I don’t have a problem with a few toys of that sort. We did a quick inventory and found one Sesame Street toy, a remote control toy that makes sounds when you press buttons my dad bought her to use as a “cell phone”. It was not on the list of recalled toys so she’s still happily toting it around. I don’t have a problem with one or two toys like that,  though they aren’t my favorites, she enjoys them, it’s their excess that gets to me.

I’ve seen kids come up with all kinds of scripts for Barbie and other brand toys that have nothing to do with the marketing. For me a huge part of that is limiting media exposure. If kids don’t see the ads and the cartoons that are really just extended ads, then the merchandising scripts can’t get in their heads in the first place.

via Sed Contra

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  • Hey Melanie,
    With Cecilia only a year and a half and having only lived in an apartment, we haven’t needed to firmly decide the Halloween question yet. However, here are my thoughts thus far…
    1. When I think about it, I think every holiday, religious or secular, has a purpose, whether it is honoring those in the military, celebrating our nation’s birth, giving thanks, Christ’s birth, etc. I’m having a hard time finding one for Halloween. My brother said that for him it is about facing or confronting one’s fears. So is Halloween about courage? I don’t know. I have a hard time seeing that in our modern culture. I don’t know of any reason why a family couldn’t adopt that purpose but it might be hard to maintain outside of the home. Could it not have a purpose? I suppose, but if it is just about having fun, would there be better ways of doing that?

    I also grew up with enjoyable Halloweens. My birthday is only about a week before it so my Birthday parties always revolved around Halloween and, due to timing, even my Bridal Shower had some Halloween in the background.  At my birthday parties growing up we used to carve pumpkins and make the jack-o-lanterns the party favors.  And yet last year when I would stroll Cecilia in a mall past one of those Halloween stores the costumes and decorations were so gruesome and horrific I had to keep her from looking at it and I have to admit I have to wonder about a holiday I might have to shield from my daughter’s eyes.

    2. Is it harmful? I’m not sure. I think, in a way, it could be completely innocent with children dressing in pirate or astronaut or princess costumes simply collecting candy supervised by adults before dark. On the other hand I fear too many people use Halloween to celebrate horror and death and things associated with evil wearing masks that have “blood” running through them and the like. Considering, by the nature of the way the holiday is celebrated, the children would have to experience the costumes of others and the decorations of other’s houses and the parents have to open their door to others who could be dressed in anything, I’m doubtful celebrating the holiday could keep its innocense as it requires mixing with other’s interpretations.

    I can’t help but wonder, if Christ was sitting in my living room and I got up to answer the door for trick or treaters and there were children dressed as pimps or prostitutes or demons, what would he say? If he accompanied my children and I trick or treating and our neighbor was dressed as a devil with a Jason dummy holding a bloody machete on his porch, what would he think? I don’t know – I’d love to ask him, but I do worry about it.

  • My perspective is probably a bit different than most of the ones you run across, but here it is: I don’t celebrate Halloween, and it’s mostly because of my experiences growing up as a missionary kid.  The village my parents worked in actually had a witch doctor; people actually prayed to spirits.  I lived in a part of the world where those things were part of real life, and I just can’t take them lightly.

    Now, the coolest part of that part of my childhood was getting to see how the Lord Jesus was stronger than any demon or curse.  It really is true that no demon can withstand the power of our Lord’s name.  But because of those experiences, I can’t look at the witch costumes and think, “aw, how cute.”  It just reminds me that there really are spiritual forces in the world, and I don’t even want to pretend to celebrate the ones that have rebelled from God.

    smile  Told you it was an unusual perspective.  But that seemed to be the kind of thing you were asking for.  There are people I respect who disagree with me, but there it is.  I do still roast pumpkin seeds around that time of year though – yum!

    peace of Christ to you,
    Jessica Snell

  • I used to enjoy Halloween immensely.  My last year trick-or-treating was as a freshman in high school.  I wore my mother’s Army fatigues.  We had a blast, even though I’m sure many thought we were too old.  The unwritten rule around then was that if you went through the effort of creating an actual costume, you could trick-or-treat, but otherwise you just didn’t.  I really became disgusted with all of the revealing costumes that were almost expected of teenage girls though.  As a senior I did dress as a witch so that I could take my baby sister trick-or-treating.  Might as well get into the spirit!

    I actually think some Halloween dressing-up is useful.  There was an article years ago about how some “exorcism center” was kind of closing down in the Northeast somewhere.  With the exception of the previous commenter’s experience, the world too often denies the existence of real evil.  Dressing up as witches, demons, etc., reminds us in some small way of the netherworld.  Going to Mass the next morning reminds us of the strength of Jesus in a very real way in my opinion.  What’s the one thing demons like vampires can’t handle?  The light of day.  That’s when Jesus was found to have risen from the dead.  In the daylight. 

    I hate leaving such a long-winded comment, so I’ll continue here:

  • Catherine,

    I read your post here and on your page. I like your theological interpretation of Halloween but personally I find it difficult to imagine it working practically. I only have a 1 1/2 year old and one on the way, but at what age do you think children would understand that interpretation of halloween? I also wonder if dressing as something evil to remind yourself that it exists would desensitize the person to the truth of that evil. There was a book called Monsters of the Id that spoke about all horror beginning with Shelley’s Frankenstein coming about as a reaction to the Enlightenment and to bring people back to the supernatural and remind people of the spiritual. But if parents are raising their Catholic children well, should or would the need to dress as evil things to remember they exist? As a secular tool it might have some purpose if it didn’t desensitize them to evil, but would a good practicing and believing Catholic need to watch a horror film to remind themselves evil exists? Should they? Would they offer Jesus a bowl of popcorn to watch a horror film? This is a difficult topic for me as I love such films as the original Haunting and Halloween. I used to be a big horror film fan until they ceased to really be horror and simply became gore. I guess I am just hesitant to place myself around something that represents evil simply to remind me it exists – I see evil enough every day in the headlines and while I certainly will teach my children the reality of the devil, just as I am not going to hang up a picture of him in his room, I don’t see how surrounding her with innocent children dressed as something evil would help her spiritually.

  • MtC, 

    I remember learning about the history of Halloween at my Catholic school.  I remember them explaining to me in the first and second grade that people would dress up as demons and goblins partially to scare the spirits away that they believed roamed the world before All Saint’s Day.  The nuns discussed the idea that we make representations of things that are scary partly to face them.  Every child is different (that HUGE reason to homeschool), but I grasped it quickly at that age. 

    I’ve never been a fan of the horror movie genre, even the old ones.  Suspense is cool though.  What I have always enjoyed are tales of the underworld.  And by those I mean I used to like Anne Rice novels and was a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.  It’s so much easier for me to understand evil through images like those than with a person in whom I have to recognize Christ. 

    I also wonder if putting on a costume that represents something sinful reminds us that underneath we are still a child of God.  I’m rambling here big time, but in a sense, Halloween could be seen as a time when we “put on” a sinful nature, and are then cleansed with Christ in the sacrifice of the Mass the next day.  I’m contrasting this with the Protestant ideas that were a small part of my childhood like the Total Depravity of Man.  Protestants believe in a sense that sin is what we are, whereas Catholics believe it is something that we do.

    I don’t think that we need reminders that evil exists, but I don’t think that hiding any sort of evil from a child is necessarily productive.  Children often learn through representations and images.  My daughter began to understand the idea of Jesus and Mary much more clearly once we got our images of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts framed and hung in the dining room.  She learns about scary things through experiences too.  Maybe protecting them from one thing makes them more susceptible to another?

    And I think that the desensitization of children to evil is going to happen much faster through things that they only view versus things that they experience.  When we view a gory murder flick, for instance, we have to separate what is happening from its real-life consequences, because it isn’t really happening.  Sure, the costumes are fake, but the terror a child feels when confronted with a scary costume is real, if temporary.  I remember having the pants scared off of me in haunted houses as a child, and the knowledge that I had made it all the way through the house was much different than the feeling of a horror flick ending.

    You make good points.  I don’t think that hanging an evil picture would be a good idea.  That’s permanent.  Halloween is temporary.  There is no redemptive battle that Christ can win with a picture hanging on a wall, and often in a horror flick, good doesn’t really triumph (i.e. evil is often done to stop the bloodshed).

    Anyway, great discussion!