The world needs heroes. So here I am, walking through the toy department of our local Kmart.
No time to play. Today I’m on a mission, to buy a gift for a kid’s birthday party. The fifth this month.
Normally my wife would take the lead on a mission of this importance. But when I raised this with her, she quickly rattled off a long list of alternative jobs I could tackle. She has an excellent memory for these things.
Buying for a six-year-old, whose name I only just learned, is no easy task. So I brought along my own six-year-old for support.
Browsing the well-stocked shelves, the options were immense. Figurines. Board games. Laser tag. A set of fake, slime-filled pimples—a fun introduction, I thought, to the world of puberty.
Then something at the end of the aisle caught my eye. One of those rotating globes I used to love as a child. But this was no relic from the past, it was a hi-tech version for today’s young globetrotter.
Three different rotating speeds. Music from around the world. The latest holiday travel deals. This thing did everything. I turned to my advisor for reassurance.
“What do you think? Isn’t this great? Look, it spins around just like the real Earth.”
Granted, it wasn’t my finest pitch. As she rolled her eyes (a skill she clearly learned from her mother), I saw a glimpse of the teenager I will one day disappoint. I hope she likes fake pimples for her next birthday.
As I inspect the product preparing for my follow-up presentation, I notice something truly incredible. The price tag. So cheap! Decision made.
Such a large and impressive gift, with educational value as well. I would leave the party a hero. A generous, thoughtful hero. And it was the last one as well.
But then the voices started.
How can they make this for so little money? Surely someone is getting exploited. Probably in an overcrowded factory somewhere, with a supervisor yelling “Work faster or you’ll never see the real world again!”
Was this thing even safe for a child? How many corners were cut in its production? Toxic plastic? Shoddy electronics?
Then I thought about how many CO2-emitting kilometres it probably travelled to get here. The packaging read ‘Components made in China, Denmark, Mexico and the Czech Republic’. Such a global collaboration seemed somehow appropriate.
And what happens in a few months when the kid breaks it, probably riding it like a cowboy. It’ll no doubt end up in landfill along with the mountain of batteries it will consume.
And what about the kid, whatshisname. No doubt he already has far more toys than he needs. Between birthdays, Christmas, time-poor parents, and wealthy grandparents, it’s an endless conveyor belt of new toys and gadgets.
I want my kids to truly appreciate what they have (a lot) and not always be looking for the next fix. I seriously worry that we’re just training them to become mindless consumers.
Maybe I should take a stand and not bring a gift at all. That would be something.
I can hear the other parents now, “What a cheapskate. I heard he celebrates Festivus.”
When suddenly I was interrupted by a tug of my shirt.
“Daddy, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
I snap out of it, giving my daughter a reassuring pat on the head.
I take the globe off the shelf, defeated. Who am I to challenge society?
But misjudging its size, I clip the side of the trolley and my possession hits the concrete floor with an unnerving jolt. The situation worsens when I see an Arctic-sized chunk break off the top.
Fleeing the scene with haste, there’s one thought that keeps going around in my mind.
The world is far more fragile than I realised.