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The Zhu Zhu conundrum


The hamsters that are giving hope to a nation. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)


Like many parents in America right now, I am really not sure how to feel about Mr. Squiggles.

Zhu Zhu hamsters -- the cuddly robot pets that have turned some moms and dads into desperate, Toys-R-Us stalking maniacs this holiday season -- have a number of factors working against them. Most notably, there was that short-lived safety scandal earlier this week, prompted by a report from the Web site Good Guide, that claimed the toys contain dangerously high levels of antimony (a chemical used as a fire retardant). The Consumer Product Safety Commission later issued a statement to confirm that the product meets federal safety requirements, which means -- at least based on the information currently available -- the Zhu Zhus are still safe for children.

But that's not the only issue that makes some people less than fond of the coveted critters. Some parents don't like the fact that Cepia, the family-run St. Louis company behind the pets, manufactures them in China. Still others find all the fuss over the toys more evidence of Americans' misguided priorities. "Just proof that a sucker is born every minute and that parenst [sic] are ruining their kids by catering to their fad demands and unwarranted begging," wrote one commenter on the Post's Web site. And then there's the fact that the demand created by all those suckers has led to Zhu Zhu prices being jacked up on sites like amazon.com and e-Bay.

Sounds like a whole lot of hassle over a product that looks like a reject -- albeit a pretty adorable one -- from the cast of "G-Force." And yet, despite all the reasons to dismiss these toys, I find something oddly reassuring about our national obsession with creatures named Numnums and Pipsqueak.

Zhu Zhu mania harks back to the Christmastime trends this country experienced during more robust economic times, when we unabashedly announced our obsessions with Cabbage Patch Kids and Tickle Me Elmo because, frankly, we didn't have better things to worry about. (Speaking of previous toy crazes, I am convinced that Zhu Zhus are the love child of a Furby and a Tamagotchi virtual pet. Seriously. Think about it.) The fact that some of us are equally fixated on the Zhu Zhus almost feels like a return to that frivolous normalcy we once knew and took for granted.

Sure, we can call all those parents misguided for standing in line on Black Friday just to buy their kids a $10 fuzzball that -- for an additional $12.99 -- can have his very own skateboard. But I would argue that perhaps subconsciously, we all secretly want, maybe even need, to rally around a toy craze this year. After more than a year of listening to endless talk about the recession, the lousy housing market and layoffs striking families when they can least afford it, we need a diversion. And by that I mean a diversion that doesn't involve Tiger Woods.

We need a Christmas season that's about something more than end-of-the-year downsizing and 2010 anxieties. We need to convince ourselves that all is calm, all is bright and all problems can be solved if we can simply track down an inexpensive pretend-gerbil for our first-grader.

In the end, after the challenging nearly 365 days we've just experienced, maybe our best, simplest hope really does lie with Mr. Squiggles. The skateboard, though? That's definitely optional.

Jen Chaney oversees movie content on the Post's Web site and writes for On Parenting every Thursday.

By Jen Chaney |  December 10, 2009; 7:45 AM ET  | Category:  Entertainment
Previous: Cabin fever already in full swing | Next: Rooting to lose

Comments


"But I would argue that perhaps subconsciously, we all secretly want, maybe even need, to rally around a toy craze this year."

"In the end, after the challenging nearly 365 days we've just experienced, maybe our best, simplest hope really does lie with Mr. Squiggles. "

More evidence that Jen Chaney is an idiot.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 10, 2009 7:54 AM | Report abuse

Is the Tickle Me Plant Greenhouse - the Green alternative to the Zhu Zhu?
I give it a big green thumbs up!
You and your child will never look at plants in the same way ..gift a Tickle Me Plant
The Tickle Me Plant is now easy to grow indoors. The leaves suddenly fold up and the branches droop when you tickle It! It’s more like a pet then a plant
1. No batteries required
2. Packaged in the USA
3. Guaranteed to Grow and move when you Tickle It!
It may even teach your child to be more sensitive to plants and nature. You can just search the net or go to http://www.ticklemeplant.com

Posted by: GoGreen3 | December 10, 2009 8:10 AM | Report abuse

The shills come out early. The Tickle Me Plant gives me the creeps, reminds me of a movie where Jack Nicholson played a character named Wilbur Force. Ugh.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 10, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Those of you who are already parents-what do you think is the ideal age between siblings? I realize there is no firm ideal age difference but I dont think we want to talk about a toy all day and this subject has been on my mind. Thanks:)

Posted by: sunflower571 | December 10, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

How about less time fixating on satisfying the child's urge for every fad toy out there (which they will tire of quickly) and a little more time teaching them that love/affection is not tied to what "Santa" puts under the Christmas tree?

Posted by: terrapin31590us | December 10, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

A mechanical gerbal named Mr Squiggles? That's about as creepy as it gets!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 10, 2009 9:17 AM | Report abuse

"what do you think is the ideal age between siblings?"

For Irish Catholics - about 5 minutes.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 10, 2009 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Our kids are like the cats. They would prefer to take household items and boxes out of recycling to play with than the actual toys that we buy them.

As a result we are rebelling this year and not buying the kids toys. They are getting a Wii that the whole family can enjoy and the entire Fraggle Rock series on DVD because they love to watch movies before they go to bed and they think the Fraggles rock. Except for some trinkets that Santa is bringing - that is the sum total of what is going under the tree for the kids.

The kids just aren't interested in fad items like this and I am grateful because it saves us from running around on Black Friday trying to find crap.

Posted by: Billie_R | December 10, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Sunflower, I think there are advantages and disadvantages to any age difference. Ours are 21 months apart and we really like it. The big advantage to us is that it makes it easy to find activities that they are both going to enjoy. We also liked that we were still in baby mode for the most part with the first when we had the second. I think it would have been much harder to be completely done with all the baby stuff and then have to start all over again.

They are only a year apart in school because of how the cutoff falls, and that's really nice as well because we only had one year when they were going to different schools, although we'll have another year of that when the oldest starts high school. Having to take them to different schools for two or three years would have been really hard.

The advantages to having a larger gap that I've heard are that you only have one in the baby/toddler stage at a time, so that can be easier to deal with. And the older one can help a bit. I think having a larger age gap can also make it easier for them to establish their own identities.

As you said, there isn't a single "ideal" difference, it's whatever works for you (and of course you can't always plan it anyway). I like having them close together.

Posted by: dennis5 | December 10, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

The kids just aren't interested in fad items like this and I am grateful because it saves us from running around on Black Friday trying to find crap.

Posted by: Billie_R | December 10, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse

If you wait until black Friday to try to find the fad items, you're too late. You need to get them in September or October.

Posted by: dennis5 | December 10, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

what do you think is the ideal age between siblings?"

For Irish Catholics - about 5 minutes.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel

Haha, I had a customer tell me yesterday about "Irish twins"-kids born I think a year apart? MY DH wants to start trying for the second baby when the first is only a year. Yikes!

Posted by: sunflower571 | December 10, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

dennis5

Thanks for the input.

Posted by: sunflower571 | December 10, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

"Irish twins" = two siblings in the same grade because they were born about 10 or 11 months apart - e.g., a child born early September 2004 and a sibling born late July 2005 would both start kindergarten in 2010 if the cutoff were Aug. 31, so they'd be in the same grade.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 10, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

"Irish twins" were also known as "Vatican twins" in DH's Lutheran neighbood as code for "can't keep it in the pants" or "can't keep the knees together".

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 10, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I bought the Chia obama head, now that's a gift worth giving

Posted by: pwaa | December 10, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

The shills come out early.

Posted by: jezebel3

Yes, both the shills and shrills were out early this morning

Posted by: anonymous_one | December 10, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

...in case it wasn't obvious, the term "Irish twins" is very much an ethnic slur, and the PC police will sometimes come after you for using it. But not always; that's one of the groups for which the use of ethnic slurs is still acceptable (e.g., for Brian's benefit - you can't call your team the "Fighting Illini" but the "Fighting Irish" is perfectly acceptable).

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 10, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

I kinda like the Zhu Zhu. They're relatively cheap and I really don't feel like buying a live hampster (or a dog for that matter). That said, I'm not buying any of them this year.

Posted by: pipe1 | December 10, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

OT Sunflower, for your question about the ideal age between siblings:

In my experience, siblings that are several years apart end up where the older one acts like a parent more than a sibling. The two tend to not be able to relate until the younger one is nearly an adult. There is no sibling rivalry. I'm not sure if this is bad or good, it's just what I experienced.

Posted by: mkat2 | December 10, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Sunflower, I think it totally depends on the disposition of the kids. From the people I know, sibling harmony seems to have more to do with individual personalities rather than age difference.

It also has to do with you as a parent... we decided to have #2 (which turned out to be twins) when our oldest was 3 (that is, they were born just after she turned 3). She was a demanding kid, and I am a low-energy person, so I was not even ready to think about it before that. FWIW, she generally gets along really well with her brother and sister (despite a horrendous adjustment period), and they play together all the time. But the little ones are only 19 months old, so we'll see how that plays out over the next 20 years.

Posted by: floof | December 10, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Sunflower,
I'll have to let you know a year from now! I am in July and ours will be 22 months apart - closer than we'd initially wanted (wanted 2.5 years or so) but we're coming around to the idea. I've heard the first year is chaos but once you get through it and the first is walking it's much easier. Our first started walking at 11 months, so once #2 is born we'll just be counting down until the following summer!

Posted by: youngnovamama | December 10, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

that should say that I am DUE in July.

Posted by: youngnovamama | December 10, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Ideal time between siblings? I think it depends on the family. For me it was 8 years, because it just worked out that way, and I am thankful it did work out. It stretches out the baby rearing time, but also makes it less intense. Other people like to have the babies close together, kind of like pulling wisdom teeth, doing it all at once and then never having to do it again.

Wait and see how it feels once this baby is born. You may decide to do it again very soon, or like me, wait for a long time before you want to try for another.

Good luck.

Posted by: emily8 | December 10, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I didn't get the latest fad toys when I was a kid and my kids don't get them now (mean dad!). Keeping the kids away from commercials on kids TV for the past six months has been a very good move.

I just talked about the spacing of kids with a friend last week. We felt that each kid is different, generally kids are a lot of work and the age/health of the parents is a factor. Some rules we came up with:
- See what you get with the first birth before committing to the next (oh, right, that's the way it actually works)
- Just go for a bunch of Irish twins if you're a strong 20-something
- Pacing yourself with a 2 to 3 year spacing for 2 or 3 kids might be better for someone over 30 or so
- If the mom is around 40, twins can quickly settle the spacing question
- Finally, you never know. We did three years and it has been great and they are close enough to play together although our neighbors with the same spacing are concerned about fratricide. Special needs children (e.g., autism) are what they call a 'game changer.'

Posted by: KS100H | December 10, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

On the spacing issue, we're still trying to decide but my parents had 3 within 2 years (twins) and my spouse's parents had 3 within 11 years spaced equally apart. Both think that they made the best choice and can't see how the other did it. It was a choice between concentrating on all of the "baby stuff" within a 3-4 year period vs. within a 10-year period with help from the older sibs. I guess it's a personal preference assuming you have control of the timing.

Posted by: pipe1 | December 10, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

On the spacing issue - there are 22 months between our first and second; 14 months to the third, and then 4 and a half years to the fourth. There are pluses and minuses. The youngest will be an "only child" for four years starting next year (the other three will all be college students next year), and she's NOT looking forward to that! We think she wants some allies around to help out during the high school years.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 10, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

My sister and I are 15 months apart, and I was hoping for something like that with my two, but I ended up with 30 months apart, which is fine also. Things don't always work out like you want/think is ideal.

Posted by: janedoe5 | December 10, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

youngnovamama

Good luck!! I will be curious to hear about your experiences.

I'm coming around to the idea of having them closer rather than further apart but until I have the first one I can't really decide. I like the idea of them being into the same things at the same time-playing nicely together, going to the same schools. Just wonder from a work standpoint if it's bad to take two maternity leaves so close together and also if I could give two youngesters enough time and energy. Also, I did some research online and some websites suggest there is more sibling jealousy when they are closer in age.However, I know family members close in age where this isn't the case. As I said earlier, my DH is all for two in a row then be done with the baby years.

Posted by: sunflower571 | December 10, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

By the way, sorry if I insulted anyone yesterday. I was having a really bad day but shouldn't have taken out on the blog. I have two single friends who are driving be nuts with their dating/breakup dramas and I really just get sick of always having to be there for them when they never even ask how I am feeling now that I am pregnant. Sometimes I wonder why do I bother? But then I feel like they are my connection to be single days since most of my other friends now are married/having kids or work friends etc.

Posted by: sunflower571 | December 10, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Sunflower - did these friends ask about your life when you weren't pregnant? If not, then they're not great friends, period. If yes, then maybe they're sick of you always wanting to talk about your stuff. Or somewhere in between. My baby will be 8 months old on Saturday, and whiel I appreciated when friends asked how I was feeling, I am still here, and I work very hard to remember that I am an individual, not just a mommy. And I LOVE being a mommy - it's hard work for me to maintain my individuality.

As to spacing - I'm going for 2.5-3 years. I want them close enough to play together when they're little, far enough apart that they have some indivudal friends/experiences, and I have the energy for them. And since I"m 35 now, I don't want to wait too long from a risk perspective.

Oh - and I could care less about the zhu zhu. I had never even heard of it till a couple of days ago.

Posted by: JHBVA | December 10, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

I'm so glad my kids have not noticed or mentioned this toy.
I don't like it because it's
1. a robot. why do we have to invent a robot, why can't kids have a real relationship with an animal or friend?
2. it's landfill fodder. Pretty soon it will stop working and everyone will be tired of it, then out it goes.
Sorry to be so negative.

Posted by: liziko | December 10, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Sunflower your husband seems to think that the baby years are something to be done with quickly-- but they are the most wonderful years of your life! I wish I could draw it out as long as possible. My kids are spaced 3.5 years apart and it seems just perfect. You've got to savor those years as long as possible.

My youngest is 2 and we won't consider another one until she is fully potty trained. I don't want to be dealing with potty training while pregnant. My stomach is too weak for that!

Posted by: captiolhillmom | December 10, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

"In my experience, siblings that are several years apart end up where the older one acts like a parent more than a sibling. The two tend to not be able to relate until the younger one is nearly an adult. There is no sibling rivalry. I'm not sure if this is bad or good, it's just what I experienced.

Posted by: mkat2"

That's funny, I had the opposite experience. My sister is 7 years older than me and in many ways I am the "parent" figure. I have bailed her out of jail twice and gotten her out of many scrapes. We had terrible rivalry growing up. We didn't become close friends until we were both adults. Now even though we are very different we are very, very close. But I am still the more "parental" of us.

Posted by: auntieW | December 10, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

One other thing Sunflower. About your friends-- a wise person once said "You can decide how things affect you and don't have to give other people so much power to hurt you."
True dat.
Words to live by, eh?

Posted by: captiolhillmom | December 10, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Zhu Zhu - I'd heard the phrase, but didn't know what they were. Thank goodness my kids are too old for them!

Sunflower, kid spacing question: I'd recommend 2 to 3 years apart - better spacing than my parents did.

I was born 11 months after the wedding. Middle sister is 18 months younger than me. As soon as mom weaned me, at 9 months, she conceived again. Youngest sister is 14 months younger than middle sister. Again, weaning a baby and the next conception were happening pretty much at the same time. Although Mother swears she didn't want to wean her that young, and blamed the babysitter for giving the baby too many bottles. Our brother, the youngest, is 20 months younger than youngest sister. I'm pretty sure that Mother's body got a few months break between weaning her and that last conception, though.
(Q: What do they call couples who use the rhythm method? A: Parents.)

Popping out babies that fast can be pretty hard on a woman. After my C-section with older son, I was repeatedly warned not to conceive again until my uterus had at least a year to heal from the surgery - less risk of a uterine rupture during a subsequent pregnancy.

My boys are almost exactly five years apart. Not my choice, just how my extremely low fertility worked out. They get along great, but that's likely because the older one is developmentally delayed, and the younger is a bit advanced in some ways.

Observing other families, I think 2-3 years apart seems to work pretty well. DH and his sister are about 2 1/2 years apart, and they are *so* close, and reportedly were as children too. I get along best with the sister who's about 2 1/2 years younger than me, and we always have gotten along well since we were very small, too. Among my cousins (I have a lot of them) the rule seems to hold. The ones who are around 2-3 years apart seemed to be closest as children and as adults. Closer together in age, and there's too much competition. Further apart, and there's not much they have in common.

But the personalities of the siblings are a big factor too. My brother and middle sister are just under three years apart (Nov. 1960 and Sept. 1963 birthdates), but they weren't ever close. She's not easy for *anyone* to get along with. (Unless they like being a doormat, and enjoy being bullied. I felt sorry for her ex and stepson, and I think I understand how the ex became an alcoholic during their marriage.)

Posted by: SueMc | December 10, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Sunflower,
You are hillarious!!! Yesterday, you were upset with your friends for only wanting to talk about themselves...so today, the first thing you do is hijack the blog with your own topic... without even addressing the main topic. Isn't this kinda what you were mad at your friends for?

Not mad atcha, just saying.

Posted by: pipe1 | December 10, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

TheRealTruth is very pleased to present today’s coveted Poster of the Day award to SueMC for her 2-3 years apart as ideal anecdotes (Disclaimer: TheRealTruth will have 2 DDs exactly 2 years apart so TheRealTruth strongly desires for this dynamic to be true).

Special acknowledgement is made today to anonymous_one for the "shills & shrills" comment.

Posted by: TheRealTruth | December 10, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Thank you RealTruth, but now I'm embarrassed.

I thought the "shills and shrills" comment was brilliantly succinct - but I had my typical diarrhea-of-words. Or maybe diarrhea-of-the-keyboard?

Posted by: SueMc | December 10, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Thank you. (succinct enough?)

Posted by: anonymous_one | December 10, 2009 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Fred, is that you???

Posted by: emily8 | December 10, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

One other thing Sunflower. About your friends-- a wise person once said "You can decide how things affect you and don't have to give other people so much power to hurt you."
True dat.
Words to live by, eh?

Posted by: captiolhillmom

Good point!

Posted by: sunflower571 | December 10, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Sunflower your husband seems to think that the baby years are something to be done with quickly-- but they are the most wonderful years of your life! I wish I could draw it out as long as possible. My kids are spaced 3.5 years apart and it seems just perfect. You've got to savor those years as long as possible.

Posted by: captiolhillmom | December 10, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Sunflower's husband. I don't know what there is to savor about dealing with a baby that won't sleep and changing dirty diapers, but to each their. Maybe it's a male/female thing. My kids are 8 and 6 now and this age is so much better than the baby years. To each their own.

Posted by: dennis5 | December 10, 2009 10:16 PM | Report abuse

If you refuse to pay jacked-up prices for Zhu Zhu's but still want to buy them, you can use the free service AZNotify.com to snipe them on Amazon at the $9.99 list price as soon as they come back in stock.

Posted by: bicyclist00 | December 10, 2009 11:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm steering clear of fad toys...so far, I've been lucky. My kids have neither heard of Zhu Zhus, nor have they bugged me for anything fadlike (although my older daughter's wish list to Santa this year did include Dora Links-ain't gonna happen!).

On the subject of kids' spacing, our daughters are 4 years, nine months apart. That was partly planned (we'd been discussing having a second kid before our older daughter turned 4), and partly UNplanned (our younger daughter is proof that even using TWO forms of birth control at the same time doesn't always work, to rebut an earlier blog entry that I was unable to comment on due to my computer throwing a tantrum). It works out great for us...they'll be five years apart in school (we've already been joking about how our younger one will be starting kindergarten the same year our older one will be in fifth grade, which is the highest grade the elementary schools here go to, and that will make them sort of the "bookends" of the school). Even better, that means that if they both stick to four-year plans, we won't be paying for two kids in college at the same time (amazing how many people seem to forget about that when they're planning their childrens' ages-no offense to anyone!).

I can't say that works for everybody...my sister and I are almost four years apart in age, and growing up we got along maybe one day out of every ten (maybe the fact that we were the only kids our age in the neighborhood was a contributing factor as well, I don't know). My kids, however, are practically inseparable at the moment. I know that'll change as they get older, but for now I'm not complaining.

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | December 11, 2009 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Re:"we won't be paying for two kids in college at the same time"

If didn't forget about college tuition, it just wasn't on our map. My wife is appalled at the thought that not only do I expect to only make a modest financial contribution to their tuition, I may actively discourage them from the 4-year plan.

Back in the day, my (Irish Catholic) parents had all five us in undergraduate school at once for one year, which actually worked out well: the tuition assistance programs considered my parent's ability to pay and we paid a lot less than if we were spread out.

Posted by: KS100H | December 11, 2009 9:24 PM | Report abuse

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