Tag Archives: Mr. Potato Head

My Favourite Things

13 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 13 – 10 things I couldn’t live without: Write a list of the ten things you need (or love) the most.

When people ask me what one item I would grab if my house was on fire, I never know what to say. I mean, who can pick just one? I’m a woman, for Pete’s sake. Women need stuff, just like they need chocolate. It’s a scientific fact.

So in my hypothetical fire, I’m allowed to grab ten things. How I will carry them from a burning building while I’m simultaneously ferrying my kids to safety is not a cause for concern. When my hypothetical fire breaks out, all of the items are easily at hand along with a large duffel bag, I have superhuman strength and an extra pair of arms, and my kids are being fully cooperative.

The ten things I would save from the fire (apart from my family, who technically are not things), are as follows, in no particular order.

1. My Garmin training watch and accessories. I love this gadget. It combines my love of running with my love of technogeeky things. It is the coolest device ever. I can go for a run anywhere in the world, and when I am within range of my computer, it downloads a nifty little map of where I’ve been. The desktop app also tells me stuff about my pace and heart rate, and that appeals to my inner math nerd.

2. My smart phone. This thing does almost everything a computer can do, only on a smaller display. It functions as a camera, a Skype interface, an e-reader, an email client, a music player, and many other things. To be completely honest, I hardly ever use it as an actual phone.

3. My laptop computer. I would be lost without my computer. Seriously. I do everything on there. I don’t know how people like my grandmother coped without technology. Sure, that generation may have been more resourceful and better able to cope in a crisis, but they didn’t have Facebook or the ability to connect online with fellow autism parents when things were getting too overwhelming.

4. My notebook computer. I know, I know. I have a large number of technology devices for one human being. But I love my notebook. It goes everywhere with me. It’s a great little device for writing and web-browsing when I don’t feel like lugging my full-sized laptop around with me.

5. My coffee machine, along with ground coffee and filters. Because, well, obviously. My house just burned down in a fire. I’m stressed. I think I’m entitled to some coffee, and if it’s late at night the coffee shops might not be open.

6. A selection of my older son’s Mr. Potato Heads. George would be at a complete loss without his Potato Head family. These little characters have been with him since he was first diagnosed with autism. They were the means by which he started to tentatively explore language, and they were the tool that my mom used to teach him his colours. As a child with autism, George does not play in the way other kids do, but when he’s got his Mr. Potato Heads, he’s in heaven.

7. A selection of my younger son’s Disney Cars cars. When James first saw Lightning McQueen, it was love at first sight. Thomas the Train and his friends instantly got relegated to the toy box. Now it’s all about Lightning McQueen, Mater, Finn McMissile and all the rest of them. James would be heartbroken if his Cars cars got burned up in a fire.

8. My favourite shoes. Those who know me well know that I hate shoes. They are uncomfortable and don’t look good on my ugly, non-dainty feet. Shopping for shoes to go with my wedding dress was probably the most stressful part of my wedding planning. The only shoes I actually like are my running shoes. My mantra is: There’s no such thing as “too many running shoes”. I would grab my favourite pair and rescue them from the fire.

9. My purse. You never know what will be in my purse from one day to the next. Delving into my purse is like going on a scavenger hunt. It has all of the staples, of course. A little bit of cash, drivers’ license, maxed-out credit card, and the most essential item of all – a tube of lipstick.

10. A clean pair of knickers. From the time I was a little girl, I was taught to always have clean underwear with me. If I was in an accident and I was wearing dirty underwear then, you know, what would the ambulance men say? I would hope that the ambulance men would have better things to do than inspect the state of my knickers, but the lesson stuck.  Besides, if my house has just burned down, I don’t want to be wasting time worrying about the state of my underwear.

What are your favourite things? Share in the comments!

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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Talking Toys

19 May

The day before yesterday, I felt like buying presents for the kids. It’s not Christmas, it’s not anyone’s birthday, it was just a day when I wanted to pull out surprises for the kids when I got home and see their faces exploding with smiles.

Getting presents for James is easy. There’s just one general guideline to follow: if it has wheels, he’ll love it. When he was younger, it was Thomas the Train. Then it was Hotwheels. And for the last year or so, it’s been Disney’s Cars. The kid has about twenty Lightning McQueens and fifteen Maters, plus a Sally, a Sheriff, a Red The Fire Truck, a Doc Hudson, and all of the other characters, and it’s still not enough. The Cars obsession showed signs of starting to flag a little, but that was before the preview for Cars 2 came out.

And now the toy stores have come out with a whole new line of Cars 2 products. And so I headed straight for the display and picked out a Lightning McQueen (yes, another one) and a Mater (yes, another one). These aren’t just any Lightning and Mater, though. Some previous iterations have had features like the ability to light up or make vroom-vroom noises. These new ones do all of that AND talk!

Buying presents for George is more of a challenge. He doesn’t play with toys in the same way that other kids do. He’s into more cerebral stuff that lets him work with words or numbers, but there are only so many alphabetic fridge magnets and alphanumeric toys that you can buy for one child. The only toy toys that he really likes are Lego blocks and Mr. Potato Head. And again, he has so much of that stuff that buying more would seem like overkill. I mean, his Mr. Potato Head collection fills three large boxes.

But still, there’s always hope that Hasbro has come up with a new Mr. Potato Head character to add to Indiana Jones Taters of the Lost Ark, Darth Tater, and all the rest of them. So I headed over to the Mr. Potato Head section, and to my utter astonishment, I struck gold.

A talking Mr. Potato Head.

This thing is super-cool. You don’t even have to press any buttons to make him talk. He’s equipped with a built-in microphone that picks up on conversation and noises in the room, and he talks back. His repertoire of things to say is surprisingly extensive. An added feature is that when the room is silent, he will say things like, “Can I get some attention around here?” And if you make a sudden loud noise like banging on the table or clapping your hands, Mr. Potato Head’s pieces come flying off.

It’s a fun, fun toy. A bit challenging to have in the room when you’re trying to watch TV because it keeps providing a running commentary, but that’s a minor detail to live with. What’s really fantastic about it is how much George loves it. Getting him a toy that he instantly engages with and has fun with is such a rare experience, and we savour it.

In the meantime, James has fallen in love with his talking Cars cars. He gets them to have conversations with each other (they too, have a decent repertoire).

So things are peaceful in my house right now, with the kids each having cool new toys to play with.

And because of the nature of the toys involved, things are very, very talkative.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kiraca/5651863946)

Trains Of Autism Thought

2 Feb

Yesterday was a momentous day because George played with a train set.

Most parents would read this and wonder what the big deal is.  George, after all, is a seven-year-old boy, and isn’t playing with trains a fairly typical activity for a seven-year-old boy?  Well yes, except that George, as we all know, is far from typical.  Because his autism makes his mind work in very different ways, he does not play with toys in the same way that other kids do.  He never has: from the time he was a very tiny baby George didn’t do all of the stuff with toys that all of the books said he would.

On a side note: this is one of the reasons I know that George’s autism has absolutely nothing to do with vaccines.  It might be a factor for some other kids, I’m not saying it’s not – but it isn’t for George.

Anyway, back to the toys.  I remember having a slight feeling in the pit of my stomach, when George was a baby, that something was not quite right.  I just knew.  When he was at the age where other babies track toys with their eyes, George would stare off into the distance.  When he was supposed to be batting at dangling toys with his tiny hands, he would ignore them.  Unless they were shiny – then he would just stare at them.  He never took an interest in teddy bears; quote-unquote “age appropriate” toys never appealed to him.

I remember once surrounding George with toys just to see if he would react to anything, to find out if something, anything, would spark an interest. For a long time, he just sat there, not even acknowledging the toys.  Eventually, he reached out for the train so he could push the button to see the lights.

George in a sea of toys

The train! The train!

When George did start taking an interest in toys, it was not to play with them in any conventional sense.  It was to line them up or to examine bits of them.  He showed a definite preference for Lego – the straight, symmetrical lines of the pieces appealed to him.  He could make perfectly straight lines with them.

Another favourite was a play table that we had picked up at a garage sale.  There were all kinds of things on this table: big buttons that you could push, large beads that you pushed back and forth, little sliding window things that you would move from one side to another to reveal little pictures.  At one point in its life, this table had had a toy telephone attached to it (rotary dial – just shows how old this thing must have been). By the time we got the table, the telephone was gone, but the piece of string that had attached it remained.  George showed no interest whatsoever in the buttons and beads and pictures.  However, he would spend hours examining that piece of string.

I think the first toy that George played with in the manner intended by the manufacturers was Mr. Potato Head.  He was introduced to Mr. Potato Head by his speech therapist, and it was love at first sight.  It was a wonderful tool for developing some basic speech, and it certainly didn’t hurt his play skills either.  Soon we had a large collection of Mr. Potato Heads, and to this day this is a firm favourite with George.  He has been using Mr. Potato Head pieces in increasingly creative ways.

Mr. Pineapple Head!

Yesterday, George played with a train set.  By “play” I don’t mean that he lined up the tracks without putting them together, that he made one dead-straight line of trains for each colour, or that he lay on his back minutely examining the lettering on the trains.  I mean that he actually assembled the tracks (making a pretty nifty figure-of-eight to boot!), and then pushed trains back and forth on the tracks.  He was absorbed in his play for some time, and on a couple of occasions he even made choo-choo noises.

For any outsider looking in, he would have looked like any seven-year-old boy playing with his trains.

But he’s not just any seven-year-old boy.  He’s my George and I am so, so lucky to have him.