Backstory: Toying with the patience of parents

Politicians in washington are always talking about controlling the flood of illegal immigrants over the border. But here's a problem you never hear them address: controlling the immobilizing flood of plastic toys into my house.

If you've got kids young enough that they still pay attention to you, you know what I mean. It's a simple equation. Take China's rise as an economic power, add in the artificially depressed yuan, and multiply by the decade-long boom in American aunts and uncles.

The result: enough action figures to carpet every great room in the US to a depth of three feet. Oh, I've struggled to handle this crisis on my own. Last year I used my second-grader's Legos to build my first grader's stuffed animals a barn in the backyard. The city made me take it down. Turns out my neighborhood's not zoned for plush.

In desperation, I turned to a parenting magazine. My wife gets it; it's called "Guilt!" The cover promised "Ten Toys Your Child Will Love That Aren't From Guangdong!" This sounded good, until I figured out they were all from Shandong. They had a sidebar on gifts you could make yourself, but it was kind of unrealistic: Who can whittle a sled from a tree?

Anyway, it's the volume, not the provenance, that's the problem. And that's something parents are powerless to stop. "Just don't buy them!" I hear you say. "Tell the relatives there's a limit!" Well, I've tried both, and I'm here to say it doesn't work. Parents break down; relatives don't listen. And the kids - they have one item on their Christmas list: "Everything."

So here's what I propose: federal legislation. A commission, at the very least. Brent Scowcroft doesn't seem busy. Paul Volcker's done with that oil-for-food scandal investigation at the UN. Now it's time for a real challenge.

Toy cuts: Sounds like a vote-getter to me. All parents want is an excuse, so next Christmas, when their first-grader cries over that pack of socks, they can lean forward, and say gently, "I'm sorry, honey, but it's out of my hands. It's the law."

Peter Grier is a staff writer for the Monitor in Washington.

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