Have you ever wondered what a three-year-old boy would want for his birthday?

Recently, I found myself paralyzed in the toy section of a local store. I don’t have any grandchildren, but I do serve as a “pseudo-grandmother” to many of my younger friends’ children. They range in age from newborn to 12 year olds. I love the opportunity to see what they’re up to and what captures their imagination.

Being a curious 69-year-old, I can’t help but be engaged in their play. While shopping, the stereotypes are hard to let go of—not only for the marketers, but also for me. I noticed that the pastel-coloured aisles were full of pink- and lavender-coloured packaging, geared to traditional girls’ toys. The black-, red- and blue-coloured aisles were mainly reserved for the boys.

I wandered back and forth through the aisles; but, on first, second and third look, didn’t find much that captured my senior imagination. My mind stretched back to our son when he was three. Life was a bit simpler back in the late ’70s. No iPads. And there were limited electronics or fancy toys that don’t leave much to the imagination.

Books, puzzles, simple bikes, kites, Lego and homemade playdough were the basics back then.

At one stage, I eavesdropped on parents and kids to see what caught their attention. I lurked behind three-year-old-looking kids to see what toys they played with. I feared I might be taken for a grey-haired pervert ready to pounce upon some unsuspecting kid.

I was tempted to ask a mother, who was with her preschooler, if she had any suggestions for me. I envied a fellow grandmother/customer who had a cart filled with toys, probably geared more to older grandchildren.

I decided to avoid anything resembling a gun—water pistols, military action figures with guns—although I was willing to accept those who, I rationalized, used rifles for subsistence hunting or for protection from wild, scary beasts! I’m not sure what the parents’ position was on guns, but I made that judgment call.

I was drawn to action figures placed within specific environments, like a shark tank with ferocious-looking sharks, sea life, a boat and all of the necessary equipment. There was a fire-rescue scenario and an imaginary dinosaur setting. I wondered if a three-year-old would get engulfed in those worlds.

I wandered down the pastel aisle, thinking I should get out of the stereotypes, and checked out the kitchen setting with a stove, fridge and all the equipment. I decided it was beyond my price range, as was the fortress-building set. Whatever happened to an old blanket draped over some chairs; or, better yet, an appliance cardboard box with a cut-out door and window?

I pondered over the battery-operated train set and a train book to go with it. But then I recalled the train set our son had and how he grew bored with watching it go round and round on the same loop. The train required more tracks and there were no extensions for this train set.

I was becoming more frustrated after my wanderings for the last 40 minutes. Then I spied some tool sets—one with a battery-operated saw (no cutting), and another with a drill that made the appropriate sound and movements.

Yes! … this was it! The drill with eye goggles, a hammer, pliers and screws! Okay … I know I was falling into the boy-toy stereotype, but what’s a desperate pseudo-grandmother to do? Yes—the packaging was blue, and so was the card I bought.

So you’re probably wondering, Was it a hit or not? Not only was it a hit for him, but also for the other three- and four-year-old boys and girls. Even a 30-something-year-old male tested it out! My friend reported that the next morning, the first toy that her son went to play with was the drill and goggles! I feel like a successful grandparent.