ToysR(used)Up

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The best toys are like unicorns. They include enough horse to seem real, but enough horn to become magical.

Amber & Andy Ankowski, “Anatomy of the Perfect Toy”, PBS Parents, May 25, 2016

The abandoned doll in the yard next door is a forlorn sight. Lost toys take on a peculiar pathos similar to ghostly schools during lockdown. This child’s moppet has obviously been left during the lockdown after a fleeting weekend visit with the divorced father who lives there, custodial visits now being allowed during South Africa’s national quarantine.  There is something incredibly sad about discarded playthings, perhaps because they signal the absence of their owners.

The little girls who spent the weekend have gone home with their mother and the garden is quiet again, their giggling games a fond memory only. I wonder whether the girls have missed and cried over the little baby doll. I wonder whether she has a name.

Favourite toys always have names. My first doll was called Hygienic, I kid you not – well that’s what it said on the label, so that’s what I called her. She had a hard, plastic head with garish red hair (worse than mine) and a soft body, presumably so as not to hurt the toddler playing with her, so she looked a little odd without her clothes – I had enough naked dolls to run a brothel if I’d known what that was.

I also had a variety of other dolls – remember Tiny Dots? Then there were those ugly Cabbage Patch creatures. I remember playing for hours at the apartment block made out of my chest of drawers where the Barbies lived too. Now I recoil at the thought of the social grooming about body-types they were promoting, but then they were the cool people who populated a Manhattan sort of life I thought was oh so glamorous in my emptied out sock drawer. There were also those odd ones, not unlike a baldish Chucky, that looked like they were straight out of Steven Spielberg central casting, but with the hair a mere contour in the plastic. They were called Cindy and Wendy and cried out alarmingly when tipped upside down (let that be a warning to future mother tempted to do that). I think Cindy could walk too, in a sort of mechanical way – I am surprised we didn’t have nightmares about them.

But my all-time favourite was a teddy bear called Spareman (He was the only boy-doll you see so he felt ‘spare.’) My childhood logic was a little odd, but I suppose ‘Gigolo’ never occurred to my young mind, even though he dated all the other ‘ladies’ and was the groom at every large doll wedding – the ladies were all dressed for those of course – some rather sumptuously if my sister, Brigid, and her harem of coiffured belles played too, although I was never sure if she would get cross with me and take her side of the family indoors. My grandmother who was an artist, made Spareman for me: he was just large enough to fit in the crook of my five-year-old arm and sported a jaunty, painted-on face and a powder blue shirt – no pants now that I think of it, after the brown felt ones he came with disintegrated, so he was definitely a trifle loose on the morals side too.

I took him everywhere and couldn’t (wouldn’t?) sleep without him. I remember one occasion when my mother was driving us cross-country in her little blue Austin Morris to visit family in Ixopo, a small town on the Umkhomazi River in the Kwazulu-Natal Midlands. We had travelled some 200 kilometres when it was discovered that Spareman was living McCauley Calkin’s nightmare, home alone. My mother turned around and went back for him. That is love – my mother was a saint! I would never have done that for any of my youngsters.

I lost him forever in America when we moved back to South Africa. He was packed away in a box meant to be forwarded to me with all my treasured possessions; sadly never sent. I hope someone is loving him – but he probably found true love finally with a dumpsite dolly.

It’s heartening though to see how children’s toys are kept for future generations. We found Andrew’s mother’s teddy in her things and it sits on a shelf alongside Mika’s old bear and a gift bear from Sterns which came with a watch and bracelet given to me by staff when I left my last school. Stern Bear glares at Andrew and reminds him that diamonds are a girl’s best toy now. Mind you, they are perched up there like the proverbial three monkeys – cue horror music…

Liam had several toys, all called Max, which made things easy to remember: Max the Wolf, Max the Teddy Bear, Max the Monkey and Max the Lion. I think Winston the Labrador ate a few Maxes. I hope Bandile next door finds his daughter’s doll before she is ravaged by his savage Jack Russel.

I was not impressed when someone gave my girls Bratz Dolls for Christmas once, both because I hated the concept of encouraging brattishness – they needed no encouragement in that department; but mainly because of that spelling! To this day I am not sure whether Mika has been forgiven for tossing one of the three delinquent dollies into the next door neighbour’s garden, but I never moaned at him – I was glad. The girls seldom lacked for baby dolls because Liam was always happy to hop into the dolls’ pram and be petted.

Sean and his best friend Matthew apparently blew up a couple of Action Men – a fact I am glad I did not know about because I would have been furious about the danger of messing around with fireworks, but I suppose the fact that my cousin and I once used a doll as a swingball would make me a bit hypocritical about their destructive streaks.

Michael had a collection of remote controlled cars which were best put to use during nap time when they served as spies, transporting messages between bedrooms. Again, not something I knew about until they were teenagers and confessed to their wicked childhood nap avoidance.

But their best games were those adventure games that Sean (interestingly now making money from screenwriting) scripted and directed with elaborate plots and parts which evolved as the characters joined in.

And there was the ubiquitous Lego, a nightmare to clean up even with the cute Lego vacuum device, but worth hours of enjoyment. When we first moved back to South Africa and Liam was tiny, while he was asleep, I would sometimes try to grab some shut-eye quickly and still be around the children. So I would lie down on the couch while the children built cities and roads out of Lego on the floor. They remember me grumbling if they made too much noise, but certainly loved the games, even if they were frustrated that their mother needed to doze. Shannon remembers feeling for my pulse to see whether I was still alive from time to time and lifting up my eyelids to check whether the kip had become permanent. Liam played with Lego for years and was adept at building fighter spacecrafts and manipulating them dexterously in aerial battles in solitary games, complete with sound effects, when his older siblings were at school.

I did not enjoy the era of tamagotchis, those digital pets that raised the alarm annoyingly if they needed feeding or walking. Fortunately batteries die. and so did those’pets.’

They still all love games of course, mostly online for the boys and the Friends board game was a recent Christmas request, not to mention the Game of Thrones epic, but those like Beer Pong and others have taken on a more salacious turn I am sad to say.

 I miss watching their little bodies absorbed in their fantasy worlds, or building forts out of the tables. I think I have conveniently forgotten how much I had to referee things though and wondering whether Michael and Shannon might actually kill each other.

For now, I have packed things away in a cupboard, and measure the passing of time by the dust on them all…until the echo of children’s feet again sounds along the passage and the games begin again for the next generation…and I can play too.

“The simplest toy, one which even the youngest child can operate, is called a grandparent.”    

Sam Levenson

Five simple things I want to tell girls about speaking in public

It is a truth universally accepted that women have to contend with prejudice both overt and subtle when standing up to speak. When the audience ((no matter its size or gender make-up) has completed its superficial scrutiny of what fashion statements our clothing and body shape are making (inexpensive elegance from Les Chinese and sponsored by Cadbury in my case,) the group will eventually engage with our message.

The challenge is to ensure that our messages are not lost in poor presentation skills. Here are a few pointers I have found useful in my own delivery as well as in coaching young people in the classroom.

  • Own your space.
  • Don’t giggle.
  • Lower your pitch.
  • Slow down.
  • Stay away from insipid expressions and apologies.

Own your space:

Any good communication depends on what I call ‘crossing the gap’ from speaker to listener. If you are called to share an opinion or give a talk, your primary task is to carry your message from your own genius to the hearers.’ Don’t shrink from traversing that space with your body language. An audience will applaud anything if it’s said with enough panache. A bombastic oration which is flimsy on content is always better received than timid eloquence (which may explain the popularity of certain politicians and churches – despite the patent lack of spiritual or bodily gain from Doom, snakes or loud praying – ask Brighton and Pastor Lukau of the the coffin fame.)

Don’t get me wrong I am not advocating vacuous braggadocio performances, but a confident pose is a sure way to have your audience sit up and take notice (and I don’t mean like Mr Moyo’s fake rising from the coffin!) I am assuming you have profound wisdom to share – so stand and deliver it with aplomb. Much has been said about the Wonder Woman stance being an effective warm up before an important speech and I must attest to its efficacy. Also, studies have proved it, so you don’t have to just take my word for it: Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language is brilliant:

https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en

Something else women are not taught is the authority which is communicated through a firm handshake. We don’t need to get into the relative power plays engaged in by persons of Mr Trump and Mr Macron’s ilk. Men may well use the strength of a person’s handshake as a measure of their personal value, and no matter how much we dislike that, if you’re going to allow your hand to flounder limply in someone’s grip like a pap snoek, you may not be taken seriously. I also find that men will hug a female colleague, before they shake her hand, and although one may well hug them because they are close friends, it isn’t professional. Be the first to stick out your hand and initiate the gesture.

Don’t giggle:

Nothing says “I am inadequate and insecure’ like a giggling Gertie. Every description of giggling fits includes two interesting words: ‘silly’ and ‘girls.’ While this may have your inner feminist fuming, we cannot argue with the fact that self-conscious tittering (no matter your gender) makes your audience see how uncomfortable you are in a situation and definitely has no business gurgling out on a podium.

The problem of course is that oftentimes our unconscious Piglet or Nervous Nellie bubbles forth uncontrollably at inopportune moments, especially when we are anxious. We know instinctively we shouldn’t be letting that flutter of foolishness loose, which is why if you google images of giggling most pictures depict a person with a hand covering the twittering. It must be so because even the giggling emoji says so.

So explore techniques to calm yourself before your big moment. Avoid big sighs or obvious palm pinching though. Try placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth and breathing deeply. Plan and practise your opening.

Lower your pitch:

Back in the Dark Ages when I was a student teacher, I eagerly asked for feedback from my charges. ‘You have a squeaky voice’ was not quite what I was expecting, but in hindsight marked a singularly significant shift in the gravitas with which I was perceived.

Anxiety can alter our pitch so cultivating relaxation habits before a presentation and consciously lowering your voice will help you come across as more authoritative. Lions are taken more seriously than hyenas. It is horribly unfair that men automatically command attention simply by having deeper voices, but women can consciously lower the pitch – you don’t need to be Batman gravelly or Louis Armstrong deep – just avoid the trill and shrill.

Related image


“Monica:
[complaining about her Thanksgiving] Did anyone ever give a hoot about what I wanted? NO, NO, NO, NO! And I’m just… [her voice gets very squeaky and high-pitched]
Chandler:
Okay, Monica, only dogs can hear you now. “

Friends, Season 1

Slow down:

If you ignore the horrible grammar (sorry my American friends) in the graphic below, you will see just why you should reduce your pace. Coupled with a high pitch you can end up sounding like Minnie Mouse, according to Speech Coach Patricia Fripp, if you speak too fast for your audience and they definitely will not get the gist of your message.

https://www.fripp.com/are-you-speaking-too-quickly/

Remember the first point in this article: own your space – that means YOU regulate the pace. Your audience is not going anywhere. They are yours to entertain.

Image result for speaking too fast cartoon

Avoid insipid expressions and don’t apologize:

  • ‘Hi’ and/or ‘guys’ (too casual seems sloppy)
  • ‘I just want to say’ (Just say it!’)
  • I’m sorry I’m a bit nervous’ (We immediately do not trust you or your message and can’t wait for you to leave the stage, because your nervousness makes us anxious)
  • ‘Um,”ok’, ‘like’ repeated use of ‘so’ (Filler words show us you are nervous and they are downright annoying, which means we listen for them instead of your message.)
  • ‘Oops I’m not very good with these electronic devices’ (See above)
  • Adverbs like ‘literally,’ ‘actually,’and ‘really.’ (They (in fact) add (very) little to your argument and (actually) become like filler words – irritating)
  • ‘Stuff,’ ‘things’ (Name them)

Be powerful:

“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.” – Malala Yousafzai