The toy aisle

All it takes is a stroll through a mainstream convenience-store toy aisle to realize what seed is being planted in the minds of our children: that warfare is commonplace, fun, an acceptable way to play on.

Presumably, the toy aisle I find myself in is the boys' toy aisle. One perk of not having children is the luxury of avoiding such aisles; also why I probably sound pretty naïve to parents familiar with toy arsenals. Yet, the visual assault bowls me over.

And the startling I feel is much bigger than my capacity for understanding why toy makers would want to promote plastic Repeater Rifles complete with "reliable rifle sounds" and "eject play bullets." I read over this line and wonder if I'm the only one connecting the dots here, or is there something overly responsive, or too exact about the way my mind interprets the world? Am I caring too much?

I know it takes a lifetime for boys to figure out what being a man is all about, but maybe, just maybe, if we didn't jump start them with miniature F-5 Freedom Fighter Jets, they wouldn't have lodged somewhere deep in their brains, like the scent of Sunday pancakes, the myth that fighting is some kind of fun.

Curiosity sparked, I check out the girls' toy aisle instead of leaving the store quickly as I'd entered. There is, to my mind, an even scarier mind set embodied in this aisle, and it's remarkable to walk through it, a way to understand our expectations for girls from an intimate perspective. Facing it, I feel sad; also resentful. Most prominent are baby dolls, blenders, toasters and housekeeping sets, things June Cleaver does, I guess, back home, aproned and smiling, while boys are off driving Hot Wheels and on the front lines.

Mind you, plenty of other toys are present: Legos, a slew of art supplies, puzzles and board games. Even marbles. Wow, I think, marbles.

Still, that action-for-boys and domesticity-for-girls remains the norm within the norm of mainstream toy sales makes me question whether things have changed all that much since my mother's day. And all days prior to hers.

I know what some (most) of you are thinking, that I'm hopelessly idealistic or liberal, as if it is a bad thing to be. And who knows, maybe it is. But I think there's a better name for what I feel while staring at a 40-piece set of toy soldiers pointing guns at each other: off balance, the disquiet that comes from not understanding why things are the way they are, why so much vacuity fills the world. I guess I crave - the way others do sugar - some kind of proof that things will turn around. What wears away when I see weaponry-for-play is my hopefulness, every shard of it whittled down.

I'm not a religious person, per se. My way is not to defer joy until I reach, say, heaven but to seek the ever after in the here and now. And at the epicenter of my present is a hugely challenging creative life, a consciousness fueled by risk and hope. And only in its presence do I feel confident and capable. Without it I fear an overwhelming sense of unfairness will seep into everything I think, write, say, do. And I can't let that happen.

I figure I'll begin by avoiding toy aisles. Felicity, like any special set of circumstances, requires sound planning.

Sanelli's two-women staging of "The Immigrant's Table" appears at Seattle's Market Theater, first three Fridays in August (4, 11, 18) at 8 p.m.

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