Navigating the Toy Fair with Bionics

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Lots of stairs

When I was first approached about writing for GeekMom I had to cry foul.  I’m the one whose dad has been programming computers since she was a toddler (and tried so unsuccessfully to convince her to sign up for the computer programming class he taught at her high school), but has to consult with her teens when it’s time to upload music to her new smart phone. All of my father’s math and science skills skipped me and settled deeply into my oldest son. What could I have to offer to a site that centered around moms and technology?

One of our editors, Kathy Ceceri, patiently pulled me in, reminding me that every writer, every mom, has a perspective that is unique and worth hearing about. I may not understand how my computer works, but I know how to use it to research fun family trips (where my kids actually find adventure and learn at the same time!) and keep up with the latest events surrounding the Lego empire, for my three Lego crazy geek sons.

I also have a personal connection to technology and science. I’m pretty sure I’m the only GeekMom writer in the group who uses great scientific inventions to get around on a daily basis. My bionic leg has given me back mobility I had lost after a lifetime of living with a deformed foot. Some days I forget that every mom doesn’t click her leg on in the morning. I get up, get kids off to school, go to work, come home and do household chores, and don’t give my metal leg much thought. I suppose this is why I don’t write about it more.

But some days, having a foot that doesn’t move and respond like a real flesh and bone appendage gets in my way. One of those days occurred last week, at one of the most exciting events I’ve experienced in a long time – Toy Fair 2011.

I’d read about Toy Fair for years. I’d seen the promos on Regis and Kelly, and even been in their audience when their ‘toy guy’ showed off some of the newest toys and games of the year. I never dreamed I’d ever get to attend a Toy Fair myself.  When I discovered that I could go as a GeekMom representative, and get my own sneak peek at the big event,  I was psyched.

The day finally arrived. My newly adult daughter drove down to New York City with me, and dropped me off at the massive Javits Convention Center. As she drove off to do some much anticipated exploring on her own, I entered those wide glass doors.

I walked up to the registration desk and held my breath as they pulled up my information. I was pretty sure I’d be the only one they turned away, when they realized I was an inexperienced newbie. But lo and behold, the media pass was printed off and handed to me in a plastic cover. I was in.

For days I’d done research on the exhibitors. I’d printed out maps of the convention center floor plan and highlighted the booths I didn’t want to miss. I made plans as to the most efficient way to catch at least a few of the estimated 7,000 new products that were making their debut.

In my old life, my life before I sported a bionic leg, I probably wouldn’t have even signed up for this assignment. My old foot made walking difficult and painful. It was strapped into a plastic brace and didn’t offer any assistance in forward mobility.

After my surgery, it was a joy to click into a high tech leg. It had energy return (it pushed me forward when I put resistance on it with each step) and for the first time in years, I walked with even effort from both sides of my body. New technology gave me the freedom to dream big and know I could tackle the endless booths at the world’s biggest toy fair.

But there was one tiny detail that tripped me up. Literally.  It cut my day short and sent me back to the days of frustration I had pre-bionics. Something as simple as a loose carpet was enough to change my day.

What I hadn’t counted on was that the convention center floor was not flat tile, or heavy duty, commercial grade linoleum. It was covered with a thin carpet. After tripping three times in my first ten minutes of cruising booths, I figured it out.

The carpet was there to cover the cords. With hundreds of booths throughout the venue, many needing electricity to show off their stuff, there was a great need for electricity.  Electricity needs cords. Instead of routing all the utility cords under large, covered ‘speed bumps’, like they do at county fairs, this exhibit hall ran them under the carpets.  They weren’t big cords. Most people might have noticed them as a minor annoyance, as they randomly stepped on them and over them. But to someone who has balance issues anyway, from years of walking incorrectly, and cannot feel the bottom of her feet (plastic on one side, nerve damage on the other), it was a big deal.

My leg itself worked great that day. What didn’t work great was the constant concentration of every step I took. Not knowing when the terrain was going change, I was constantly on alert for cords. To make it more complicated, some of the vendors laid another layer of carpet in the footprint of their booth. Another slight elevation change that had the power to trip me up.  I spent half the day weaving and swaying like a drunk woman.

By the middle of the afternoon I was exhausted. Mentally exhausted as much as physically tired. I’d hit some pretty big booths (Lego, Playmobile) and happened upon some smaller vendors with unique new products. But my plan to at least walk the whole venue was shot. It required too much effort to get around that enormous place, while counting every step. I used muscles I don’t usually use in ambulation, to guard against falls and unexpected tripping hazards.

After a fun late afternoon snack with fellow GeekMom Amy Kraft, I decided to call it a day. I had a bag full of press kits from some pretty exciting toy companies and a plastic sled sample to put through the paces on our back yard sledding hill.  The day had not turned out as I’d planned, but the glitches I encountered, I didn’t have a chance to plan for.

I have to call it a success. I walked a major part of that huge show. Some of the booths I saw twice, as I circled back to find specific vendors. It’s an adventure I couldn’t have had eight years ago, pre-prosthetics. My metal leg once again opened up opportunities I never thought I’d get.

But the day also reminded me that, although my leg is bionic, I am not. Life is full of realities that can still hold me back and trip me up.  Until there’s a way to wirelessly conduct electricity to hundreds of convention center booths, I’ll have to face the fact that my titanium foot isn’t everything a flesh and bone foot is.  It’s better than my old foot, but it’s not real. It can’t help the fact that a simple cord under the carpet is enough to alter my game plan.

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