"Let's play together with the animals and numbers. Press a button."
I'm working at my desk. Junior's practicing standing against the bars of his gated play area. And the Chicco animal farm toy is trying to get Junior to play with him.
"Let's play together with the animals and numbers. Press a button!"
Although it is officially known in stores as the Chicco Bilingual Talking Farm, the thing in question is known in our household as simply, "The White Sheep Toy," for reasons you'll see in a minute. A barn inhabited by farm animals, a couple of bears and a cheerful neo-Mr. Rogers voice, the toy boasts a sophisticated functionality that fails to impress our baby.
He shakily lowers himself and crawls over to do what he always does, bang one particular animal - the white sheep - with his thumb. Thumb bangs the button. Toy talks. Thumb bangs. Toy talks. And so it is commanded. "The White Sheep. The White Sheep."
The toy does - valiantly, I think - try to get a word in edgewise.
"Let's play together with--the White Sheep. The White Sheep. The White Sheep."
This toy is bilingual, it teaches numbers one through ten, it identifies animals, quizzes kids, and, I'm sure, dances the rhumba. I'm awed.
But Junior just doesn't care.
Thumb bangs. "The White Sheep." Thumb bangs. "The White Sheep."
Taking advantage of Junior's sudden distraction--he's spotted the plastic fishbowl that needs overturning--the barn quickly manages,
"Let's play together with the animals and numbers. Let's play together with the animals and numbers."
I realize then that the voice is laced with a soupcon of Woody Allen. Reacting, no doubt, to its open anxiety, Junior allows himself to be lured back.
"The White Sheep. The White Sheep. The White Sheep."
I'm utterly sympathetic to the toy. Occasionally Junior permits the thing to chirp, "The Orange Cat" and play music, but there's something about "The White Sheep" that tickles my child's fancy, and the poor toy must oblige.
Junior crawls out of his area to demand a snack. I plop him on my lap and feed him, listening with growing concern as the toy urges desperately, "Let's play together with the animals and numbers."
My child is no hard-hearted creature. After some time, he relents. Down he goes, back to the barn--and this time he thumb-bangs a bear. Already learning benevolence, I think proudly.
"Find the Black and White Cow. Find the Black and White Cow. Oh, dear. That's the White Sheep. The White Sheep. The White Sheep. Find the Black and White Cow. Oh, dear. That's the White Sheep."
My fingers pause on the keyboard. Something's building. Something's gonna happen. I give up on typing. I turn and watch.
Junior is looking intently at the thing. He's obviously realized the toy is, in its own way, formidable.
"Find...." There's a pause, and then, coyly..."The White Sheep."
Junior stares. Utters a delighted, "Yah!" The thumb extends. Bangs.
"Oh, dear. That's the Yellow Duck. Find the White Sheep. Oh, dear. That's the Yellow Duck. Find..."
I watch for about five minutes with a certain amount of dread. No matter how sweetly the thing urges my child to touch the White Sheep, he refuses. It's Yellow Duck for him each time, every time now. I should interfere. I should stop him. The tension's making me sweat.
And then the thing says with a distinct edge, "Find the Yellow Duck, and then the White Sheep."
"The White Sheep. The White Sheep."
Junior looks at me, grinning.
The Chicco farm toy goes silent. Pauses.
"Good-bye," it says with finality.
Junior crawls over to me. He looks at me with innocent eyes.
"Shame on you," I say. "It's just trying to be your friend."
Junior looks at the thing with the contempt a baby naturally has for a toy that loves too much.
My husband wanders in, then.
"The White Sheep," he says in greeting.
"The White Sheep," I acknowledge solemnly.
"The White Sheep," says the Chicco Farm Toy.
POST PUBLISHING EDIT: Since then, the boy has taken mercy on the toy. He likes the darn thing, and even we have begun to like it since the child has learned the animals like the back of his hand and begun exploring the alphabet and numbers. And - critically for us - pressing more than just the button for the white sheep. His favorite currently is the blue bird.