Parents and kids often have very different ideas about what constitutes a "good" toy. I remember the year I so desperately wanted the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine. I'm not sure why I skipped the E-Z Bake Oven (also popular at the time) and went straight for Sno-Cones, but my five-year old brain was obsessed with visions of making and sharing syrupy day-glo Sno-Cones in the livingroom.
Sticky syrup, brightly colored food dyes, garish commercialism... After all these years, I finally begin to understand why my father was horrified by the request. Needless to say, he didn't buy me the Sno-Cone machine. Instead, dad settled on the far more practical art set.
I imagine there are gobs of households filled with children who beg for art sets and receive, instead, items that more closely represent that household's parental hopes and dreams. Tiny doctors' bags, for example. Itty-bitty briefcases.
No, dad didn't try to force me into medicine or law. And yes, I used the art set. A lot. But I never forgot my Sno-Cone Machine dreams.
My food production fantasies turned to other outlets... I shaped the backyard mud into loaves to be baked on stones in the sun. I made salads of yard grasses and tried to feed them to the cats.
I coveted the adorable set of tiny plastic packaged foods and the toy cash register that belonged to another little girl whose name I remember only as "Kelly." As I recall, Kelly and I played grocery store over and over again until she gave me lice and then we broke up. She, much to my disappointment, kept the grocery store.
Later in life, I heard from other kids that the Sno-Cone Machine kind of sucked. The ice was always too hard for the flimsy grating device, and it mostly just dripped. Small vindication.
Several years ago, I finally enacted my revenge on a world that had seemingly plotted against my involvement with food commerce. I enrolled in cooking school. I took jobs in kitchens until I could no longer afford to pay both rent and school loans and had to quit.
Sudden career diversion, $30,000 in culinary school debt, a few bad marks on my credit... could all this have been avoided with a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine? I can't say. Such mania may be inevitable.
Then again, today's toy food is ten times more compelling than the cartoon tie-ins of yesteryear. See, for example, the work of award-winning toy company Melissa & Doug.
I recently tripped across these items while paging through a copy of New York Family in the dentist's office. One peek at the orderly bento boxes sent me to the web, where I found the charming "Look, mom! I'm a sushi chef" play set, and a "nutritionist-in-training" wooden food groups assortment.
What food geek — whether five or fifty — wouldn't be dying to play?