Sonshine's latest obsession is Bionicles, a species of Lego toy. They all have incomprehensibly Polynesian names and form some sort of extraordinarily complex society, even though they all look like robots with pointy bits (that hurt when you step on them) and shoot various projectiles at each other. They even have their own movies. They are modular, so you can cobble several of them together to build a new one.
Sonshine has become a veritable encyclopedia of Bionicleness. Pacing the room in the way he always does when holding forth on his obsessions, he rambles about Bionicles he would like to buy, whether or not they are available at Wal-Mart, how much they cost, what year they were released, their complete history and interactions with other Bionicles, and their place in the social order. Yesterday we went to D.I. (a thrift store) and the boys were pawing through the bin of toys, and Sonshine found a Bionicle piece-- not a whole Bionicle, mind you, but a piece-- and then proceeded to tell me that it was the back fin of a something-or-other that came out in 2003. Needless to say, he bought it.
I've always tried to keep up with Sonshine's obsessions so that when he asks me a question I can answer it. When he was Bagel's age I had to, for example, memorize the names of every Thomas The Tank Engine character and know what number was on each of them; if I was asked and did not know, Sonshine would yell at me. But these Bionicles are beyond my capacity to understand. Thankfully Sonshine no longer quizzes me; he seems to understand that I know nothing about Bionicles, so he tells me about them. Of course, because they are all interconnected socially with each other, it's hard to get an explanation that makes any sense to anyone who doesn't know which Bionicles are animals and which are powerful forces of good or evil. The Wikipedia articles on Bionicles aren't any better. And the fact that they seem to shoot squids at each other is kinda distracting.
I don't usually encourage my kids to be collectors of merchandised things, but since the other boys in the neighborhood all play Bionicles too, I've encouraged Sonshine to do it, since it gives him a way to interact with them. He is always asking for extra chores to do to earn money to buy Bionicles, so I figure he's also learning to work for his money and that it's OK to collect things if you can afford them.
Maybe I can find a way to use the Bionicle obsession to get him to check out library books on Polynesian mythology, if for no other reason than that it'll give him ideas of names he can use to name his Bionicle creations.