It began with 25 cents promised at a bowling alley. My 7 year old was at a friend’s birthday party, having a really good game with kids older than him, but struggling a little with the fact that he wasn’t winning (he’s the champion Wii bowler at home). I rationalized with him, saying someone’s got to be at the top and it won’t always be him, that the others were a bit bigger, stronger, etc. And, for Pete’s sake, he was second playing against a group of 8 and 9 year olds.

Finally, I resorted to bribery. “Okay, you’ll get a quarter to spend at the vending machine with the teeny tiny animals. Just play your little heart out, have fun, and don’t worry about not being at the top.”

Worked like a charm. Being a sucker for teeny tiny animals, peace and smiles reigned for the next hour of play. After pizza and cake, he reminded me about the quarter. Slotted it into the machine – special moment for mother and child, our first vending machine (non-drink) purchase ever – and out popped a tiny red koala bear.

You’d have thought I bought him his own widescreen TV with a Wii attached. For the child does adore his Wii games (reserved for weekends or holidays) and play time on Club Penguin, a kiddy website.

He beamed from ear to ear, played little games with his new friend who showed a natural talent on my son’s recently acquired Tech Deck skateboard (acquired for under $2) – another teeny tiny toy. After we got home, the imaginary games continued: ‘Look what Kowawa can do.’ ‘Oh, he loves your iPhone.’ ‘He’s doing some drawing now.’

Great value for 25 cents.

I couldn’t be more pleased. Who would have thought that, after being introduced to the world of Nintendo, simple little toys could distract a child from addictive (and therefore, time-restricted) screen games?

With Hanukkah round the corner, I figured I could continue my big-spending habit by hunting down the Koala’s mates. Typing in Mini Malz (sons explained the latter is short for ‘animals’) on Google, I chanced upon an enterprising young man named Adam, possibly around the same age as my own boys, and his booming online business in – teeny tiny animals.

I put in an order for a set of his adorable Zoo Animals, for $3.95. My son has already made plans to make a papier mache zoo for them, and maybe a school.

I don’t know how long this love affair will last, but I’m planning to milk it.