The Rockwood Files: Toy talk

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I felt like a kid again this morning. Thick toy circulars cascaded out of the Sunday morning newspaper, and the kids and I eagerly snatched them and started leafing through the glossy pages. You know the holidays are close when toy catalogs start coming.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time studying the Sears toy catalog, which was big enough to double as a booster seat at the kitchen table. It was full of wondrous things we’d never even imagined. I’d circle my favorite things with a pen and show them to my mom who always replied with the same line: “Well, tell Santa about it in your letter and maybe you’ll get it for Christmas. But remember that Santa doesn’t bring everything on your list. He’ll bring just a few things and maybe a surprise or two.”

One year I circled a photo of a play kitchen set, complete with miniature fake stove and a miniature fake fridge. When grown-ups asked me what I was wanted Santa to bring me for Christmas, I answered with a page number from the toy catalog – Page 437, Item C. I’d carefully copied down the info into my letter to Santa. It was a big ticket item, but I hoped that somehow Santa could get it on his sleigh.

Alas, it was not to be. Among other things, Santa brought me a Rub-a-Dub Doll that year, which I dearly loved. To this day, I still tell my mom that my aversion to cooking must have something to do with that elusive kitchen play set that was just beyond my reach. But then again, I am an expert at washing babies, thanks to all that tub time with Rub-A-Dub Doll.

Fast forward three decades, and now my own kids are all wide-eyed with excitement over the new toys in the catalog. Four-year-old Kate circled nearly every photo in the book this morning. Her favorite thing seems to be a picture of a pink scooter with pieces of chalk installed in the back, which lets the rider draw lines all over the driveway as she zips around.

The scooter really is pretty cool, and I like it much better than the Mercedes battery-powered ride-on SUV pictured a few pages over. The toy Mercedes costs about 150 bucks and will let your kid drive up to three miles per hour. Call me old-fashioned, but if my kid is going to drive anywhere on her own at the ripe age of 4, she’ll have to use pedal power to do it. Besides, something tells me that buying a preschooler a Mercedes sets up a bad precedent we’d have to deal with when she’s 16. If you’re driving a Mercedes at age 4, there’s pretty much nowhere to go but down.

The boys are excited about all the high-tech toys showcased in this year’s catalog. There’s a helicopter that can be controlled with an iPhone and an Xbox game that lets you pretend to be Captain Hook, slashing through the air with a pretend sword. When I was little, we used those hollow cardboard tubes at the center of wrapping paper rolls as swords. They made a great “thwack” sound when you cracked one over your brother’s head.

But there’s no denying the forward march of technology and how it has changed so many letters to Santa. In fact, I wonder if Santa even opens real letters anymore. I bet most kids just text him their list these days: “Yo, Santa! C U at Christmas. I have been good and haven’t gone over my txt limit – yet.”

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.