Once again, I'm wandering around toy stores throughout central Ohio, scanning the shelves with my mouth ajar.
Classic games, such as Candyland and Twister, still are available, no doubt. A person still can buy a doll whose eyes open and close or a game involving marbles that inevitably get stuck in the heating registers or up a small nostril. But in this new normal, I don't see those when I visit toy stores. I see poop.
Yes, poop. One game that caught my eye this year: Poop Darts, clearance-priced at $7.49. On the same shelf was another game called Floaters. At first I thought it was about the spots that plague an older person's eyesight. I wasn't sure small children would find a game about the clumps of fibers inside the vitreous entertaining, but hey, they like Operation, which concerns human organs, so what do I know?
Then I read the box's small print, which read, "Cast your line, it's poop fishing time!"
Really, children's-game makers? Have you exhausted every possible educational idea and are now reduced to designing games after the lowest common denominator of children's humor?
That kids find bathroom references hilarious is understood. I have a 2-year-old grandson who considers "poopy diapers!" the last word in clever repartee. He'll toss out this phrase whenever he thinks the party needs livening, and he rarely notices that no one else is convulsed. That's fine. He'll grow out of the poopy-diaper stage in no time, which is why I question game-makers' reasoning. Poop obsession occupies but a brief moment of childhood. Marketing to this blip can't be cost-effective.
Also, in my experience, toddlers don't play board games with other toddlers. They play games with their parents, who are waiting until their little guy is old enough to memorize chess gambits. Most of the mommies and daddies I know would play poop games only if the lives of their children quite literally depended on it: "During this delicate five-hour operation, it's critical that you play Floaters with your child continuously. As your child's surgeon, I cannot stress this enough."
Otherwise, forget it. Parents -- and grandparents too, for that matter -- do many ridiculous things to entertain their young. They twirl like the Sugar Plum Fairy in the bakery aisle; they gobble like turkeys at library story time; and they'll tell knock-knock jokes until their ears ring. But they draw the line at poop games. Monkeys throw their own feces, but at least they do it when they feel threatened, not because it's family fun night.
I could list more examples of pandering to children's most childish acupoints: Games called Pull My Finger, Don't Step in It and Gas Out, for instance. I've walked through many toy stores that seem to be the kind of businesses located next to the interstate, under a towering sign bearing the word ADULT. All manner of poop-based novelty items are offered -- clearly, the ADULT we're talking about is one with lingering scatological issues -- and one aisle over, a calendar display featuring the kinds of photographs that call for words such as sultry, scantily and pouting.
I realize, of course, that I may be over-reacting to a natural stage of child development. Had I owned Don't Step in It when I was a child, I may not have scribbled on my doll diapers with brown crayon. As it was, I was aiming for verisimilitude in my dolls' daily care. (One of the dolls was a Betsy-Wetsy, but I knew very well that Wetsy was just half the story.)
At least I brought a little creativity to the whole business. Today's games take the joke too far all by themselves, leaving children nothing to do but laugh and, I'm guessing, make blurting noises with their mouths. I'd think even children would get bored fast, but I've been wrong about that before.
Still. Could we aim for a higher plane?
Or at least a plane with better entertainment options in the seat pockets?
SkyMall would suffice.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.