As if life with three young children isn’t fraught with enough danger. They could run out on a busy street when I’m rummaging in my purse for bus fare. They could laugh while chewing an organic, locally-grown grape, and choke.
Any parent — but especially a neurotic parent like me — can imagine myriad scenarios in which their children are forever lost to them. And many of us spend countless hours performing due diligence to protect them from bullies, from sex offenders, from food that contains entirely too much high-fructose corn syrup.
I confess I’ve always had my guard up regarding my children’s playthings. For example, when Mattel’s Barbie first arrived in our home — courtesy of my daughter’s favorite babysitter — all long legs and long hair, I feared my feminist principles were compromised and felt obliged to share them with my daughter: “Real women don’t look like that,” I said derisively. My then-4-year-old sized me up and, with the acceptance of a Zen Master, replied, “I know.”
When my then-1-year-old son greeted his first toy car with a look that indicated he’d made contact with the Mother Ship, I tried to focus on the toy’s encouragement of hand-eye coordination.
By the time my third-born developed an obsession with My Little Pony, I was ready to wave the white flag of defeat in my quest for gender neutral toys and accept that nature had kicked nurture’s butt. Besides, I comforted myself, toys are really quite harmless.
How could I have been so wrong?
As we saw last during Christmas 2007’s March of the Lead-Tainted Toys Into Purgatory, many, many toys are anything but harmless. But surely, you say, there’s been a massive cleanup in the toy aisles of North America. Right? Well … not quite.
The Ecology Center, a U.S. nonprofit that oversees the healthytoys.org website and does extensive toy testing, recently revealed that there remains plenty of cause for concern. Its annual testing, released on December 3, 2008, revealed that one in three toys contain “medium” or “high” levels of such chemicals as lead, mercury and arsenic — chemicals that have been associated with reproductive problems, developmental and learning disabilities, hormone disruption and cancer. Nice gifts — thanks, toymakers!
- The worst offender was children’s jewelry (someone please remind me why our children are wearing jewelry!).
- If you think your kids are safe so long as you avoid toys “Made In China,” The Ecology Center did not find a consistent correlation between country of manufacture and the presence of toxic chemicals in toys.
- We parents need to put increasing pressure on manufacturers and watchdog groups to ensure that toys are free of toxins. Stay on top of recalls: Go to notinmycart.org, usrecallnews.com or recalls.gov. Health Canada also offers info on toy recalls.
In the meantime, I’ll harken back to the halcyon days when my biggest concern regarding my children’s toys was convincing my eldest daughter that simply dressing Barbie like an astronaut or veterinarian doesn’t make her one (post-secondary education isn’t an option!) and that life is not all about pastel ponies.