Ah, toys. If you have known me through the parenting the years, then you know about my big quest as a mother. You know about the endless searches, Facebook inquiries, status updates, inquiries, and more money than I care to actually add up invested in THE toy that my child will actually play with. I have said for years, “If we can find the toy that McCartney will play with, I will buy it, no matter how much it costs.”
So, let’s begin with the whole, “If you give a kid a toy, the kid will want to play with the box” myth. Yes, I said myth. As a new parent, I thought it was the truth. Everyone said that was true. So on his first birthday when my son screamed bloody murder at the loud sound of the wrapping paper being torn and then continued to ignore his toys, my husband and I thought he was being normal. When he returned to his hours of opening and closing the kitchen cabinets, once again, we thought he was being NORMAL. Because while kids play with boxes, containers, and other household items, no one told us that they also eventually take their toys into the box or cabinet with them.
Anyway, our journey with toys, it has been some journey the past 7 years. In his first year of life, toys came and went. Moosey was his first special toy, given to my son at 6 months and is still with us today. (In case you were wondering, Moosey is a stuffed moose.) The rest of the special toys McCartney loved as a baby needed batteries. Basically, if it had the label Leapfrog on it and was for sale in 2005, my son had it, played with it and loved it. At some point, my husband and I decided that he needed to be interested in toys that were quiet, or that did not require batteries, and that is when our toy heartbreak began.
Honestly, I don’t know why we decided that. Was it because we were kids who loved the outdoors and books? Was it because our house was small and our kids were loud enough? Was it because doctors were preaching no more than 2 hours of screen time a day or your child is doomed to a life time of obesity? Was it because other kids (including our typical child) were falling love with Legos, blocks, books, Little People, and our child with autism was still drawn to repetitive toys that required academic thinking, but no imagination? Or was it because despite his quirks, lack of interest in toys, he still did not look and act like any other child with autism that I had ever met so we actually could not, would not and did not accept that he ACTUALLY had the highest form of barely diagnosable autism, and there had to be SOME toy out there on the market that would prove this?
Flash forward, to kindergarten, and he fell in love with Disney. He had obsessions with movies, and collected numerous toys from said movies, and spent time reenacting scenes. He has saved allowances, bought tracks, train sets, action figures, books, games, hundreds of toys, and has wanted an adult to play with him with every. single. one. Ana tried to play with him, but his play is pretty structured and has lots of rules, so over time, her imagination lost interest. He would stay busy, but not really. Toys are not fun alone and he wanted not another kid, but a grown up to play with him.
Along came the sports obsession. Now, those are some great toys! This is an obsession that has lasted the longest and that is not going anywhere anytime soon. He loves sports, all sports. He talks about sports, plays sports, watches sports, and most of all, dreams about sports. We sign him up for leagues and we have yet to find a sport he doesn’t REALLY enjoy. Along comes his birthday, and he BEGS for a basketball hoop. He has a basketball that he plays with quite a bit; he even has an indoor hoop that he has spent HOURS playing with in our basement for over a year now. I hesitate, because in the end, basketball hoops are expensive and they are toys, but….
I remember last summer and the endless hours of my son not knowing what to do. I remember him begging for attention, laying on the floor. I remember the refusal to read, the hatred of playing, the constant struggle of last summer. I dream of this hoop being THE toy that my son will play with, engage with. THE toy that will be worth extra money, the big price tag, the HOURS spent assembling it. I dream about having a toy that we have to beg my son to tear himself away from…. My husband and I spend the month of March researching hoops. We splurge. We find him the perfect one. We spend over 3 hours the night before his birthday putting it together, in the dark. It is a labor of love. But it is THE toy, so it is worth it.
On this birthday, he loves it. He plays with it for about 10 minutes, but he has a busy day, so it’s ok. The hoop sits on our patio. Throughout the first week, a friend comes over and the boys play here and there. I am excited! Yay! A week later, the hoop sits. Baseball and soccer start, the hoop sits. Saturdays and Sundays come and go, we stay home and the hoop sits. Whenever he looks bored, we suggest he use the hoop he WANTED for his birthday, he asks us, “How long? Can you set a timer?” Those are the questions he asks us when we MAKE him do something he doesn’t want to do….
School has been out for almost two weeks. We have been keeping busy, but have been home for hours and hours, but the hoop has remained untouched…my heart is sad. It is NOT the toy. THE toy does NOT exist. Last week, I got mad and said, “How hard is it to outside and play with your hoop? Why isn’t that fun for you??? Why do you love video games so much?” He replied, “Why don’t you just love me the way I am? I don’t know why God made me this way!” Part of me feels like it’s a manipulation to get more video game time, but my heart hears the truth behind his question. It continues to weigh on my heart as his mom.
My child has autism, no matter what he looks or acts like, or how typical he can behave. He does NOT like toys. He will not keep himself busy the conventional way. It is not who he is. I SEE this. I think I am finally starting to fully ACCEPT what it means. The three of us have decided to sell his basketball hoop, and I am the only one that is sad about it. The sadness is not about the hoop, but about the end of my search for the perfect, non-battery operated toy. It is over. I truly mean it. I am done searching for the toy that DOES NOT EXIST.