Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Helena and relativity

Helena received this doll for Christmas:

Certainly, the idea of him is funny — a perfect counterpoint to our Barbie culture — and he's funny-looking, but there was something a little creepy in the thought of my daughter taking this effigy of an eccentric (if brilliant) old man to bed with her.

I didn't dwell on him though, because Helena didn't. Her interest passed onto the next shiny package.

Until a couple of weeks ago. She rediscovered Einstein. She takes him everywhere. She asks for him by name. She takes his sweater off because it's too hot. She shares meals with him.

She takes him to the park. Dressed in some of her finest — clothes received as gifts, clothes too "pretty" for rambunctious toddlers engaged in daycare play activities, outfits with sailor collars, as J-F says, of another era — Helena sits in the sand with Einstein, engrossed in her physics experiments.

Other parents smile at Helena. Some ask about her doll. "Is that Einstein?" Some of them get the joke, comment on his wild hair or erratic behaviour, and start talking science, to Helena or their own kids. Some of them give me a funny look.

I wonder sometimes what other people — strangers — must think of the sort of mother I am. (Mostly I don't care, but I wonder.) Though I believe there's some worth in "educational" toys, most such toys are imbued with value by insecure parents and ever-at-the-ready marketing departments rather than quantifiable effects on a child's development.

I've never gone in for Baby Einstein or Baby Mozart products — we have books, blocks, and real Mozart (et al). I will not condescend to Helena, nor drive her down some educational fast-track. I wasn't too sure about this doll's message.

But what with all Helena's love for and joy with him, it turns out that Einstein is a pretty sensible toy. (I may have to pick up Gandhi or Jane Austen for next Christmas.)
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