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Why Rules of Road Forbid Certain Toys

November 29, 2000|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When I was a child, the rules of the road were less about driving and more about the banning of certain items and behavior from the car. Flashlights, I remember, were taboo, as were whistles, harmonicas, tape recorders and pinching contests--all of which, according to my father, Distracted the Driver, a capital offense. At the time, I found these rules arbitrary and tyrannical. Now that I have children, I find them logical and beneficial. Which is why I recently announced a new rule: Only Quiet Toys in the Car.

I am one of those horrible mothers who buys toys based on my ability to endure them. And while I will grit my teeth through a midnight minefield of Legos, I have severely limited the number of noisy electronic toys in my children's lives. The few they have often mysteriously lack batteries, mainly because I don't think anyone, not even a toddler, needs to be reminded that "Zebra begins with Z" 349 times in the space of two minutes.

But I feel guilty about this, so when my son acquired an electronic Cookie Monster game, I gave in and handed it to him before embarking on a recent car ride. Thus, as Scout Finch commented, began our longest journey home together.

The hand-held game involves the participant pressing a button that corresponds with the particular cookie the Monster requests. The correct button elicits the sounds of monster munching. The incorrect button results in remonstrations such as "Nooo, that's the orange triangle cookie; press the pink flower cookie."

Now, I am fairly certain that Danny Mac knows the difference between an orange triangle and a pink flower. What he doesn't know is that one electronic response--the munching--is preferable to the other endless, witless, exasperating, infuriating repetition of failure.

But Mommy does.

At first I simply offered him cheery over-the-shoulder guidance--"the pink flower, honey, Cookie Monster wants the pink flower." Soon, however, this devolved into barked boot-camp-appropriate instructions, and finally piteous pleas to "just put the game down, honey, please put the game down."

Meanwhile, his constant pal, Buzz Lightyear, had somehow fallen onto the seat in such a way that the slightest dip or bump engaged his buttons, so the Cookie Monster chorus had a continual counterpoint of "I'm Buzz Lightyear, I come in peace" and "Buzz Lightyear to the rescue."

Hanging onto sanity by my back molars, I kept waiting for the stoplight that would allow me to put on the emergency brake and turn around to deal with the battery of batteries behind me. But somehow I had entered a magic driving portal, and during the entire eight miles from downtown to Glendale I did not hit one, not one, red light.

I realize my toy-noise tolerance is low--Buzz and Cookie Monster are fairly benign examples. The favorite toy of one friend's daughter is a play key ring on which various buttons elicit sounds of honking horns and, unbelievably, a car crash, complete with tinkling glass. "You can imagine what her favorite button is," he says. Mothers whose children are GameBoy aficionados say they will only allow the thing in the car if the sound is turned off--one woman is convinced that the Tetris theme is a brainwashing mechanism right out of "The Manchurian Candidate."

So Cookie Monster is gone now, and in his place are Match Box cars and small, silent action figures. The baby is allowed her rattles, but the teether that plays the Winnie-the-Pooh song is history. Instead, we'll sing it ourselves, once or twice. And as for teaching Danny Mac what a pink flower looks like, hey, we live in Los Angeles--we'll keep an eye out for the real thing.

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