When all my girls were very young, they played with their toys and were completely oblivious to anything going on around them. I could stand in the doorway and watch, and they never knew I was there. They could just lose themselves in a fantasy play-world for hours on end.
Sarah was my first child, so she suffered from inexperienced parenting. Her father was also inexperienced with children. We had no family nearby to tell us what we were doing wrong. The first little baby I’d ever held in my life was my own. My ignorance was evident right from the get-go. A nurse in the hospital informed me I’d put Sarah’s diaper on backwards – she wasn’t even a day old yet.
Anyway, Sarah survived her early infancy. I thought we were doing OK until I invited a new friend over who also was recently divorced with a son just two months older than Sarah. Sarah was about 8 months old then, and pretty docile. Chris (my friend’s son), was a 10-month-old wild-man. He was already walking, climbing, and throwing things. They came over, and my friend asked where Sarah’s toys were. “Right there on the shelf “ I said, pointing to all of Sarah’s toys…which amounted to like three items. “Where are the rest of them?” she asked. I shrugged and asked, “How many toys does a baby need? “ She was aghast that I had such a paltry selection of toys in the apartment, and insisted we move the “play date” to her apartment. Chris had a whole room just for toys, plus toys in every room of their apartment - everything you could imagine. Sarah didn’t want to leave. I felt so bad for her...that I had needlessly deprived her.
We weren’t home all that much so it didn’t enter my mind that Sarah needed lots of toys. She spent days at the babysitter’s house. The sitter had kids of her own and plenty of toys. When we were home, it seemed like Sarah always found things to play with. If she got tired of her toys, she pulled pans out of the cabinet, or chewed on a box…or something. After that incident with my friend, I bought her a toy just about every time we went out. The bad thing about that was that she started expecting to get something new every time we went out. It was a hard lesson for her when, clearly, she had more than enough toys (though she never had as many as Chris). Sarah learned the meaning of “NO”, which is an important word for every kid...some don’t hear it enough.
When Erin and Emily came along, we had toys out the wazoo on hand. Someone’s mother and sisters brought new toys over all the time. We still have a ton of toys in the basement (another thing on my to-do list - sort and donate them). But I do believe, having so many toys for a kid is really not necessary, and maybe not even a good thing. When Erin and Emily were about 4 or 5, we went on a camping trip. We packed some toys in a box, but forgot to put the box in the van. When we arrived and realized all they had were the stuffed animals in their hands, Someone and I thought the weekend would be miserable. The girls, much to our amazement, found plenty to play with. They picked up sticks, rocks, and leaves, and played with those just like they played with plastic animals and dolls. No difference. They had tea parties with paper plates and cups for their make-believe stick and rock people. They were completely fine without toys (or maybe we were just very fortunate it didn’t pour rain).
It gives me great hope that in the poorest countries where parents can’t buy toys for their children, it doesn’t really matter too much. Maybe those kids play anyway, and have just as much fun playing with whatever they find to play with. I’d like to think so, even if it’s not true.