By Ana Veciana-Suarez

My twin granddaughters are obsessed with soap. Doesn't matter the brand, the scent, the size. Mention the word "soap," whisper it under your breath, and they bolt for their collection.

At last count, they had eight soaps in various states of disrepair, including a Dove, an Ivory, a small green bar pilfered from a hotel, a Maja still in its flamenco-dancer-print wrapping and an almond-scented one that came from my underwear drawer.

Oh, my, how those girls love their soaps! They sing to the bars, take them on outings and, when it's time to go night-night, tuck them in a necktie gift box I've labeled the soap dorm. The best soap blankies, by the way, are Bounty napkins.

If the soap collection is not available, they're content with the rock bag: a green canvas Publix bag full of stones collected on our walks. Once they got over wanting to hurl them into the pool, it was amazing to see what 2-year-olds could create on the patio table with white marble chips, river pebbles and plain old backyard limestone. The bigger rocks are Mommies, of course, and the smaller ones babies. Rock families, I've noticed, tend to be large and entirely mismatched. No matter.

You know that old saw about children playing with the boxes and wrapping paper instead of the toys on Christmas morning? It was true when my children were impish tykes clinging to the idea of a benevolent Santa Claus, and it remains a verity today as I watch my granddaughters brandishing empty cardboard toilet rolls (great telescopes, fine telephones).

Much of the work of childhood is about unraveling the mysteries of the world, and this means hunting ladybugs, picking dandelion flowers, scrunching colored tissue paper when Abuela's head is turned and, of course, tending to soaps.

Just the other day, trying to entertain my daughter's 5-month-old, I offered her a butterfly rattle that fluttered its fabric wings and sang a sweet song. But she was more interested in my face, fascinated by it, actually. She poked at my eyes, pulled my lips and probed my nose with a delight that warmed the soul.

Yet, knowing that the simplest items can offer hours of entertainment, I have bought an inordinate number of toys to display under our Christmas tree this year, toys that sing and beep -- and remind me that it's tough to battle holiday consumerism. I shouldn't have.

I like to tell my kids how, growing up as refugee children, my middle sister and I owned one Barbie each, which we guarded as if they were made of platinum. We learned to sew dresses for the dolls from scraps my mother and grandmother brought home from their garment-factory jobs.

In contrast, dozens of toys filled my children's closets, a tradition we, like so many families, are continuing into a new generation. Availability has cheapened their value, and in time, many of those toys will be abandoned and discarded, easily replaced by the next bargain purchase. And it's not just toys, either. So much of the stuff we own as adults, from cars to clothing to electronics, is disposable.

Of course I'll be thrilled to watch the girls rip through the wrapping paper on Christmas -- what grandmother wouldn't? But in my heart I know that some of those toys were meant as much for my pleasure as for the children's. Experience has taught me that rocks and soaps and boxes hold their attention and spark their imagination so much more than that much-ballyhooed electronic book reader.

However, it's not just simplicity that I need to bring back to their play. Limiting the bounty may be good for their sake (not to mention my wallet), too. The value we place on things, I've learned, is inversely proportion to how much stuff we own. One Barbie doll is cherished more than a dozen with a full wardrobe.

Maybe in the season of plenty, in the land of abundance, less can turn out to be more.


Parenting - It's Good, Clean Fun & It Rocks