It’s that time of year where people are out looking for great ideas for gifts for all the loved ones in their lives. If you want to know what’s great or hot this year for your kids, try some other blog. I’m going to tell you what not to buy your kids. Learn from me, young mothers.
I mentally wrote this blog post while cleaning the house on Friday afternoon, so it’s a bit centered on the “how much mess does this make” issue. Hence, the first bad gift idea is:
1. A Pet. I have a dog, and I’ve had cats. Pets are just fine. But if you get a pet, get one because you want one, not because you think the kids want one, or because the kids say they want one, or because you think they will help teach your children responsibility or unconditional love or whatever. My dog is a great running partner; she removes all edible crumbs from my floors; and she does a fabulous job of convincing strangers that walking into my house uninvited would be a mistake. But she sheds enough hair every week to cover a dozen Chihuahuas, and she can’t use a flush toilet. Pets require work, and unless you are prepared to joyfully do all that work yourself, forget it.
2. Chinese Checkers. I had this game as a kid, and I thought it was great. Several years ago I bought a nice set for my kids. I don’t think they have ever played the game. They have played with the board and the marbles, making designs or their own interesting games, and that would be fine, if the marbles ever stayed with the set. But they don’t. I find them everywhere. I have several deposit zones where I put the ones I find and hope, one day, to reunite them all. I kid you not, every time we move, I find several of them after all the furniture and boxes are gone.
I do not include marbles, in general, in this category, because a collection of marbles is interesting. Plus if you lose one, you might not notice. Chinese checkers, though, requires 6 sets of 10 matching marbles. It’s quite a bummer if you can only find 7 or 8 of several colors. One drawback , though, to those of us with many children: marbles are fine for children past the age of putting things in their mouth. But if you have younger children around, they are sure to get at them. I’m paranoid about choking hazards, and marbles are at the top of the “things that strike fear into my heart” list.
3. BINGO. Another game that nobody actually plays the way they are supposed to, but with which the components get played all the time. Our set has transparent yellow disks – another choking hazard for little ones – and, worst of all, the disks are exactly the right size to get sucked up by my vacuum wand and stuck about 4 inches in.
4. Toys that make noise. I think the worst ones in this category are the “educational” ones for toddlers and preschoolers. Honestly, the only thing they teach is how to drive mom crazy as you stop and start and stop and start the same inane, obnoxious tune, or letter of the alphabet or easy-to-read word. “CAT!…CAT!…CAT!…CCCCCCAT!” I am a woman who can tune out Barney, but V-Tech sets my teeth on edge.
Toy musical instruments are included in this category. If you want your kid to play the piano, buy a real piano and give them lessons…don’t buy one of those toy pianos (a full-sized keyboard is a good alternative to those who have neither the space nor the cash for a real piano, but lessons are a must). Tamborines and maracas might seem like good items to inspire creativity, but children do not need to be encouraged to make any more noise than they already do. These and other percussion instruments (drums…you’re not that crazy, right?) have no melodic potential, and are simply noise-makers.
I was recently in a store and saw a small box with a bunch of sound effect buttons on it. There were several different types with different themes: one had effects from a stormy night, another had ghost-like noises. I thought my older boys would find it amusing, but I balked at the $15 price tag. Thank goodness! I must have been under some Christmas-shopping daze that prevents clear thinking. Why, oh why, I asked myself later, would I ever consider adding to the level of loud chaos in my home?
5. Things made in China and other places of ill-repute. The other reason I put that sound-effects machine down was the “Made in China” label. Even if you don’t have political/moral issues with some of these countries, the scandals involving poor quality control and potentially dangerous substances (lead) in their composition should be enough to give pause. I know this is hard to do, and I do make a slight exception for American (or European) owned companies that manufacture overseas, because their quality control tends to be better. But especially the cheap knock-off brands that cost half as much for, say, a Little People type toy, are not worth it in the long run.
When the kids were little and Bill was deployed to Kosovo, we received a gift donated by anonymous people to benefit children of deployed soldiers. It was a parking garage made from cheap plastic with assembly instructions only in Chinese or Korean. I managed to get it together, but it kept falling apart, breaking, and was, in general, a supreme source of frustration for both my boys and me. It is better to buy one $40 toy that will last until your grandchildren are old enough to play with it, than a $10 toy that will be in the garbage can before the New Year.
6. Age-inappropriate toys. I do not care how advanced you think your child is, do not buy something labeled for an 8 year old if he is only 5. These sorts of things are usually LEGOs or crafts or other toys and games that require fine motor skills and/or certain cognitive abilities. Yes, perhaps your child is a genius or extremely advanced in his manipulative abilities. But unless you want to spend your entire Christmas break reading step-by-step assembly directions to your child, helping him find the exact right piece, and making sure he secures the components with the proper pressure, then finding things in the right age group is a better idea.
7. A different genre. We have boys, and hence we have boy-themed toys. We have girls, and hence girl-themed toys. We have 6 children, and hence we have a lot of toys. We do not have nearly as many toys as other families I have seen with half the number of children. It is extremely easy for families with a decent income and/or generous extended families to become overrun with toys. Toy management becomes a problem. One solution is to minimize the types of toys you have. We do happen to have both LEGOs and Playmobil, but I will not add K’Nex or Tinker Toys or even Lincoln Logs at this point. We have Pet Shop and My Little Pony which we keep in the same bucket. I’m not going to get Polly Pockets or any other girl themed stuff. It’s too much. One huge bucket of matchbox cars is better then several smaller buckets of all sorts of different toys.
Those are my top annoyances. Anyone else want to contribute to my list?