This morning, as I frantically got ready for an errand following caring for a sick Wonder Boy all night I can across a post from Trina on Facebook linking to a Business Week article. Apparently Mattel is trying to solve one of the “great mysteries of modern life: why moms don’t know how to play Hot Wheels with their sons.” (article here).
Just by the title alone I got pissed off. There surely is greater mysteries than that.
I fumed for two hours as I drove around town, pondering what kind of mystery a boy who likes cars is to a grown woman. Boys and their cars, girls and their dolls has been a stereotype since toy cars were invented, I’m sure.
Understanding boys’ play patterns is not a problem mothers have with Mattel’s Batman or Buzz Lightyear action figures because those are essentially dolls. Building blocks are easy to understand, too, as a good way to spur a child’s creativity. Toy cars? Not so much, especially when boys crash them into each other or hurl them across the room. Mom “has never played with them,” Petersen says. “She doesn’t get why cars, engines, and all the shapes and crashing and smashing are so cool.”
Now, in all fairness, before I get on this rampage let me explain I am married to a mechanic and have a car-obsessed three-year-old son. Let me also explain that if you ask me to describe a car you’re doing to get a color and number of doors and maybe an emblem description, unless its one of the four I can identify. I am not smart about cars. Let me further state- I am not calling anyone interviewed in the article dumb about toy cars- I was not there for their conversations with the reporter and Mattel. I am referencing this article.
What I have a problem with is the over-generalization of ‘Mom’ in the article and the statements made in it. Action figures are not ‘easier’ because they are like dolls, because all they want to do is fight, not change their dress and go to a party. The same moms who cannot understand why a little boy digs cars would also not understand the violence that superheroes withstand on a daily basis is a little boy’s imagination.
Now, my son is passionate about cars. Complete obsession.
He sleeps with them. He talks to them. He makes up storyline, crashes them into walls and sends them racing down our stairs. He wants to take them with him and bring them home and if the shirt has a car on it he wants it.
And I, with my not-much knowledge and an upbringing surrounded by Barbies and My Little Pony while my brother collected superheroes- I GET IT.
Cars go fast. Cars are bright and colorful. They make noises. They crash. They go fast and crash and make lots of noise.Then they are ‘broken’ and needs to be ‘fixed’ around my house, and guess who is the at-home mechanic most of the day? ME. I ‘replace’ blue engines for purple ones and ‘make them faster’ and whatever else my son wants with minimum effort- just a little pretend. Less time than it takes to dress up a Barbie and get her ready for her date with Ken… again.
Any mother who ‘doesn’t get it’ needs to try playing with her son for a while. Do they at all? With the popularity of the Disney Cars franchise, my mom has remarked the personification of toy cars for todays kids. My son’s cars have feelings, wants, needs and sometimes eyes. That is not hard for someone who plays with dolls to understand.
Sometimes playing with your child can be hard, as an adult. I struggle with it sometimes and I’m so not the only one.I struggle to get to his level, to not look bored as I try to get my car to go to the gas station so I can just pretend it’s sitting there and not getting crashed into by other cars. Since, you know, cars go to gas stations and that as a driving adult that reality happens far too often for us to not feed off of when trying to play with little toy cars. That and waiting at traffic lights and getting mad at cars that cut us off.
But to talk down to moms in general, trying to secure their purchasing power with advice for how to play? Dumb down toy cars for the everyday mom who supposedly doesn’t get a boy’s love for little to cars? No.
A mother’s purchasing power should not attempt to be bought with blanket statements with how hard it is for us to understand little toy cars.
I am not puzzled about my son’s choices. At all. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get their son’s love of cars. All of his friends obsess over cars. We all get it. We all have had them stashed in our bags or under the rug or find three under their pillows at night. And you know what? One of them has even inherited cars from his mom from her own childhood.
Is there moms out there that may have a problem playing with their sons? Most likely. Would a website, advice columns, different advertising benefit? Maybe. An app that tracks purchased cars? Probably would end up on my husband’s phone since he is the one who buys most of the toy cars as good behavior rewards in Target- unless its one he himself admires.
So Mattel, you know exactly where I stand- a mom who already does play with toy cars with her son. One that would be willing to work with you so you understand what moms would like to see in advertising and in the news besides that we are too dumb to understand how our kids play. One that would support moms who need encouragement to find that meeting place with their children’s imagination.
And I’d rather talk toy cars than scrapbook anyday.
I hope you get it Mattel.