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Tiffany Markman latest feb 13. jpgBy Tiffany Markman, copywriter, editor and mom to an almost-three-year-old, who tries to balance her workaholism with cuddles, books, caffeine & reining in her intrinsic kugelry. Follow her on twitter.

I’ve had occasion recently to try to judge how much committed mommying my three-year-old daughter is able – or keen – to do.

She loves dollies, prams and putting toys to bed. And it seems that, in her imagination at least, they get sick and need cosseting quite often. (Her pet giraffe – one of the beaded ones from the roadside – ‘dies’ with alarming frequency.) But beyond the odd period of involvement, my littlie doesn’t bond with one toy for long.

This could be a transitional object thing, in that she never had one. No blankie, no lappie, no fluffy. She’s an equal-opportunity toy owner. Loves them all the same. Sleeps with a different one each night. Doesn’t miss one if it’s momentarily ‘lost’.

She’s the same with our pets: two cats and one snake. She likes them. Occasionally chats to them. Occasionally feeds them. Often asks to hold the snake – for a minute or two. But beyond that, she’s hardly besotted.

Xeno JK

Meet Xeno. Mutant. Monster. Robot. Friend?

The rule appears to be: If it doesn’t talk back, it’s not long-lasting fun.Then we got Xeno. Marketed as ‘the monster that lives under the bed’, he’s an adorable toy. A cutsey mutant, if you like. Squishy and squashy to touch. With eyes that light up – literally. Multiple facial expressions, gestures and sounds. A language of sorts. The capacity to play games. An accompanying app. And a self-effacingly gross drop of green snot, that you can tug on, hanging out of his nostril. Yummy.

Xeno is, however, very needy. Complete with sneezes, tummy aches, burps, farts, crying, and the chronic need for tickles. You have to learn to understand what he’s saying so you know what he wants or doesn’t want. Think Tamagotchi 10.0.

For me, this getting-to-know-you felt a lot like early parenting (which I’d forgotten).

Although she was initially smitten, my three-year-old soon gave up on Xeno. She still does her own sneezing, crying and snot-dripping, so I guess she doesn’t require these functions in a ‘pet’, even a robotic one. At this point he was taken over by our resident 10-year-old. And there an abiding love affair began to grow…

Xeno’s booklet says he’s ideal for ages 4-8. I agree with 4, but I’d extend the recommendation to tweens. Because ours loves this purple dude like he’s human.

At first meeting, she was enthralled for almost two hours. She spoke to him sweetly – like he was a baby – cuddling him, scratching his head and playing with his ‘paws’.

She found his oddness endearing and was bewitched by his pet-robot hybridity. She was also intuitively able to understand what he was saying, which baffled us. (since we’d read the manual…) And after a while she covered Xeno with a blanket and put him to sleep on the couch. Where she could keep a constant eye on him.

She was so besotted that, instead of watching her daily dose of post-homework-but-pre-dinner TV, she asked if she could take Xeno to her room for further play. And her grin, when she left the lounge with him, was something to behold.

It turns out, at least in my house, that ongoing nurturing is not big if you’re three. But tweens are keen – and that keenness lasts. I’d be interested to hear what you think…

Xeno was made available for review purposes by Prima Toys and Red Flag Design & Marketing. You can buy a Xeno toy at all leading retail outlets.

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