It's not the toy that matters, it's the expense


SO THIS AD IN the paper has a picture of a castle. Not a full-size castle, more like a castle about the size of Abe Lincoln's log cabin -- if, say maybe, the log cabin had been a duplex. And the ad says, "Your dream. Our castle. Supply your own knights. KingMaker, Ltd. Custom Playgrounds from $4,499."

Excuse me? Is that a misprint there? Does that say Four Thousand Four Hundred and Ninety-Nine dollars? For a play house?

That's what it says. Four Thousand Four Hundred and Ninety-Nine Dollars. Man, that is one pricey piece of amusement. So you call Reinhold Schmidt, who came up with this concept of four-figure faux-chateau, and say, "Pardon me, but are there enough parents building these kiddie palazzos for you to actually be in business?"

"Yup," said Mr. Schmidt, "There are indeed."

A regular person is stunned. I mean there are many things regular people are happy and willing to do for their kids. They are happy to stand in line in subarctic temperatures in order to purchase the last remaining Nintendo cartridge in the Western Hemisphere. They are happy to lose four nights of sleep making the world's largest papier mache volcano for a third-grade science fair. And they are happy to forgo bunches of vacations in order that the kid have a crack at a college education. But to drop almost five grand for an objet d'play in the back yard is just a tad harder to imagine.

"Actually, if you start looking at ready-made playgrounds, $5,000 is almost middle range," said Schmidt. Well of course one person's middle-range is another person's Taj Mahal. Because it is perfectly possible to put up a swing, slide, climbing set for about $1,200, or do something even more economical such as head to the park for free. But as we all know, that isn't what parenting is about. Parenting isn't about logic, it's about love; it isn't about economics, it's about excess; it isn't about appropriateness, it's about aggravation.

Consider this one. Consider just how steamed the average parent is when on Dec. 29, after having spent hundreds of dollars on several over-priced toys destined to die anyway, your average child comes in and says, "There's nothing to do."

And you turn to him and say, "Go play with the monstro-techno-electro-wonderment you got for Christmas."

And the child looks at you and says, "I already did. I'm bored." That is a moment when you do not have loving, nurturing thoughts about this child. After all, you had hoped ever so much that the monstro-techno-electro-wonderment would provide many years of pleasure and intellectual stimulation for this kid, considering you probably spent $49.95 on it. So imagine how steamed you would be if you went out and spent almost a hundred times that on something and the same thing happened.

And happen it will. Because it even has happened to Schmidt with his very own, and might we add extremely fabulous, castle he built for his 9-year-old son. The thing has turrets and ramps and dungeons and ladders and is built to last forever, "But there are days when I'll say to my son, 'So go out and play in the castle,' and if someone isn't over to play with him, he won't go."

This does not make Schmidt very happy. Especially since, as he points out, the castles can be used for many things. "They can be rockets; they can be department stores; they can be pirate ships."

However, if your kid isn't using it as either a rocket, a store or a pirate ship, and you've spent $4,500 on it, it's reassuring to know the castle also can be a perfect place for an adult to go and throw a very unattractive temper tantrum.

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