A few blog posts ago I mentioned (here) a yearning I’d had to purchase a bunch of Sylvanian animals and maybe a house or two, brought on by frequent trips to Toys R Us when the sons, like Christopher Robin, Were Very Young. My efforts to instil an avid interest in the activity of ‘keeping house’, via the means of cute little doll houses and miniature plastic critters, had failed miserably and I completely forgot all about my brief Sylvanian Families mania over the years.
This Christmas I found a couple of presents under the tree from the husband and, after admonishing him sternly for wasting his hard earned money, I opened the biggest one to find a Sylvanian Families Log Cabin inside. Having completely forgotten about the aforementioned blog post, I wondered what on earth had come over him to do such a thing, only to find that the second smaller present was a family of four polar bears, ready to take up residence in the log cabin.
‘What?’ ‘Why?’ I spluttered. ‘You said you’d always wanted them remember, and you wrote about it on your blog,’ was the reply.
After opening the packages I pretty much did nothing with the contents, setting the cabin and cutesy polar bears aside on the coffee table and that’s where this very expensive toy stayed (the cabin cost £50 and the bears £19.99 my husband later informed me.) Good grief, I thought, what a complete waste of money and aren’t I glad that the sons never went in for this plastic rubbish all those years ago – would have cost us an arm and a leg.
And then something happened.
Whilst glancing over at the empty log cabin and forlorn polar bear family one evening, lying willy-nilly on the table, it came to mind that what they, and the house required, was furniture. So, upon whinging to the husband that perhaps we could rush off to Toys R Us, and he could take me to the Sylvanian section where he’d bought the Xmas gifts – we immediately drove over there to find the Sylvanian lot almost at the very back of the massive store, filling just one section of shelving. The front of the store was filled to the rafters with Star Wars Force Awakens models and Frozen dolls and various nasty figures, prone to violence, that only boys could possibly go in for (or girls who are that way inclined – musn’t be gender specific.)
Back at the tiny Sylvanian section (which led me to believe that this line of toys may have lost its 80’s appeal within the general toy buying population) I could be found searching for furniture that would be appropriate to a log cabin in the woods. There was nothing there, other than a set of drawing room furniture more suited to a country house – but needs must, and I was in ‘must have it now’ mode, so went with a settee, armchairs, log fire etc (£19.99.) Back home I opened the package which revealed not only the furniture but coffee cups, saucers, teaspoons, wine glasses, a percolator (!), mantle clock, picture frames, telephone, cupboard – out it all came, an endless supply of miniature treasures and I began the surprisingly difficult and laborious task of setting the whole shebang up – the coffee cups are so tiny I can’t see them without the aid of my reading glasses and I’ve lost one teaspoon, being that middle-aged hands and eyes lack the ability to handle miniatures that are themselves miniatures.
Surprisingly I also had to ‘make’ little magazines which went into a tiny magazine rack. This procedure required paper folding skills practically at an Origami level (my first intimation that maybe this toy wasn’t just for the kids) and then the fixing of stickers to provide the ‘covers.’ A picture frame required a sticker so tiny I had to use tweezers and, placed against my thumb for scale, is an example of an actual ‘thumbnail’ pic:
The mention of Origami brings me to the fact that the Sylvanian Families (re-named Calico Critters in America) originated in Japan, being created in 1985 by the gaming company Epoch. I don’t know why this came as a surprise. Their original name was ‘Pleasant Friends of the Forest Epoch System Collection Animal Toy Sylvanian Families,” which was too much of a Japanese mouthful for the Western world. The world of Sylvania was created for little Japanese kids, who spent most of their time in high-rise buildings, and was based on the Japanese view of the supposedly gentler pace, and rural idyll, of life here in the UK.
Back at home, I finished setting up my impossibly teeny household accessories and actually yelped with excitement to find that the fireplace glowed (AAA battery.) A couple of minutes later I’d set the polar bears into their new home.
And from then on in I re-arranged them periodically to suit the time of day, a little voice at the back of my mind whispering ‘what on earth are you doing woman?’ This voice became pretty insistent when I began searching furniture sets online and found the cutest bathroom set, inspiring visions of bathing my baby Sylvanian members. The thought that there was something seriously wrong with me wouldn’t go away so, as always, I turned to Google (fulfilling its role as Doctor, Psychiatrist, Teacher etc etc) breathing a sigh of relief when I discovered LOADS of Sylvanian Family Blogs – mostly written by ADULTS who probably, like me, should really know better.
And then a couple of nights ago, as I carefully placed my baby polar bear on the lap of his mother and seated them around the cosy log fire, I had a eureka moment.
I’ve always been very ‘homely’ and spent most of my truly adult life looking after children – all the time. Bathing them, clothing them, feeding them, watching over them and creating a house that would feel like a home. That previous kiddy-centric life had ended quite some time ago and, without realising it, I’ve probably been suffering from Empty Nest Syndrome – the lack of little critters to fuss over and pet. (The Empty Nest Syndrome is the theory I’m going with as the reason for all this toy based madness, rather than the scary fact that I may be turning into a middle-aged lunatic.) Some people would probably get an actual pet here – a cat or a dog, to replace the missing humans, but I’d somehow slipped (via the husband) into fussing over miniature plastic pets instead. Pets which are much easier to ‘look after’ and won’t die if you happen to forget about them for days on end.
The other bonus to my new Sylvanian family is that they will never come to hate me or criticise my toy-based parenting skills. They will never throw a hissy fit. They will eat what they’re given, at all times, and when I put them to bed they’ll stay there. They will never argue amongst themselves, or storm out of their log cabin door, or throw bits of furniture around, or object to their parents’ values and beliefs. They are the perfect family.
I have many Sylvanian based plans in my head, which may or may not come to fruition. There is the knitting of little sleeping bags for my log cabin troupe. Maybe the making of some tiny curtains to give a more homely feel. Perhaps the painting of a landscape on a very large board, so my log cabin can sit in proper surroundings. The purchase of another home and perhaps another little family.
Yes, this gentle, miniaturised world is turning out to be so much better than the real one.