“Did any of the Presidents not like toys?”

It’s nearing the end of the year, so I’m in a clear-out-the-old-backlog-of-questions sort of mood.

Back when The Eight-Year-Old was only five, we spent a lovely afternoon building a village for her toy dinosaurs out of Lincoln logs. After carefully installing a sunlight in the roof of her sauropod stable, The (then) Five-Year-Old asked, “Mommyo, did any of the Presidents not like toys?”

Mommyo: “I’m sure they all played with toys as kids.”

The (then) Five-Year-Old: “No. I’m talking about grown-ups. Grown-up Presidents who played with toys.”

Mommyo: “Well, President Obama plays fetch with his dog.”

The (then) Five-Year-Old: “Dog toys don’t count, Mommyo. I’m talking about real toys.”

Correction: According to this White House photo, Obama actually plays football with Bo. But I'm sure The (then) Eight-Year-Old wouldn't think that counted either. (Photo: Pete Souza/The White House)

Correction: According to this White House photo, Obama actually plays football with Bo. But I’m sure The (then) Five-Year-Old wouldn’t think that counted either. (Photo: Pete Souza/The White House)

Mommyo: “Hmm. Well, most parents play with their kids at some point, and that often involves toys. Can we assume that Presidents with kids played with toys?”

The (then) Five-Year-Old, graciously: “Yes.”

Mommyo: “Well, President Obama’s kids are still young enough to play with toys. I don’t think President Bush’s were when he was in office, though.”

The (then) Five-Year-Old: “I’m ok with the toy-playing happening anytime after he was an adult.”

Mommyo: “So not just while he was President?”

The (then) Five-Year-Old: “That’s right.”

Mommyo: “So can we assume that any President who had kids played with kid toys as an adult?”

The (then) Five-Year-Old: “Yep.”

At last! A question I knew how to Google!

I dutifully recorded the question (and the rather lengthy conversation that refined it in my Caterpickles Future Questions Log), and then spent the next three years industriously not asking Google anything about it.

Whew. That was hard work.

But I’m glad I put in, because while I was busy ignoring The (then) Five-Year-Old’s question, Mona Chalabi at FiveThirtyEightPolitics was knee-deep into the requisite genealogical research. According to Chalabi, all but one of the U.S. Presidents had children and/or grandchildren by the time they were sworn into office. James K. Polk, who served from 1845-1849, was the only childless President.

Which by The (then) Five-Year-Old’s criteria meant that President Polk was the only U.S. President who didn’t like toys as an adult.

I dutifully reported that fact to The (now) Eight-Year-Old while taking her to school last Wednesday morning.

Naturally she didn’t remember asking the question. But that’s ok. I’m used to that.

When she was all caught up, The Eight-Year-Old wrote off my conclusion deftly: “Just because he didn’t have kids doesn’t mean anything, Mommyo. He might have liked to play games with his friends. I mean, look at Daddyo and Uncle Phil.”

Herbert Hoover playing Hoover-ball in 1931. Hoover-ball was a hybrid of tennis, volleyball, and medicine ball that Hoover's doctor invented to keep him in shape. (Photo: The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

And, apparently, Herbert Hoover. Here he is playing Hoover-ball in 1931 with his buddies. Hoover-ball was a hybrid of tennis, volleyball, and medicine ball that President Hoover’s doctor invented to keep him in shape. (Photo: The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

Mommyo, doubtfully: “I don’t know, The Eight-Year-Old. Everything I’ve read implies that President Polk was a pretty severe sort of person. Not really the type to play games. He sounds like a more work, less play type.”

The Eight-Year-Old, determinedly: “But he still might have liked to play card games. See if he did that.”

Mommyo, consulting her iPhone: “Huh. It says here that his wife, Sarah Polk, was a devout Presbyterian and banned dancing, card playing, and alcohol from the White House.”

The Eight-Year-Old, decidedly: “That’s so mean! Do you think he played card games outside of the White House?”

Mommyo: “He would have had to, wouldn’t he? Still, I think it’s pretty clear that if there had been a President who didn’t like to…”

The Eight-Year-Old, interruptingly: “You mean ‘wasn’t allowed to.’ We still don’t know whether he liked to or not.”

Mommyo, more accurately: “Right. If there had been a President who didn’t play with toys, it would have been James Polk.”

The Eight-Year-Old, sadly: “Yeah, poor guy.”

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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3 Responses to “Did any of the Presidents not like toys?”

  1. pkhpkh says:

    But he did inspire a rather fun song by They Might Be Giants: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9SvJMZs5Rs


  2. Pingback: “Why is tennis scoring so weird?” | CATERPICKLES

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