My kids play with their “toys” for about 2% of the day — just enough time to pull them all out and make a mess. They spend the rest of their day following me around, saying things like:
“Mama, whatcha doing?”
“Mama, where is Daddy?”
“Mama, what is that noise?”
“Mama, what are the neighbors doing?”
“Mama, I don’t want you to get anything done ever, or drink your coffee without reheating it 12 times before you give up on it entirely, or go potty without my company, or ever get to take a shower.”
Before you get all “judgy” and say I’m a terrible mom because I want toys to babysit my toddlers, let me just say that I adore my sweet boys. I love their persistence and their continuous ability to speak without thinking or stopping breath. I love spending time with them, and I love that they want and thrive on my attention. But every once in a while a parent could use a few minutes. And if I spend $40 on a simple wooden train set, plus God knows how much time setting it up in a figure-8 configuration complete with overpasses and tunnels, I feel I ought to be able to have half a cup of coffee or a few bites of cereal before another round of never-ending toddler questions begins.
Oh, and that’s another thing: Why are toys so freakin’ expensive? I mean, have you seen how much a Tickle Me Elmo costs? When people told me that kids were expensive, I didn’t realize how much of that expense was going to fall on entertaining them alone. My kids saw a toy tractor at the store the other day; they thought it was the coolest thing ever.
“Maybe for Christmas,” I said with real intentions of getting it for them for Christmas until I saw the $50 price tag…for a yellow piece of plastic on wheels. When I asked my mom why toys are so expensive, she said, “Because they can be,” and I guess that’s true. Simple supply and demand, folks. Parents are willing to pay a pretty penny for anything that could possibly give them a minute on the loo in peace, so they take out a second mortgage on their house and buy their kids awesome toys that they are sure to love.
But here’s what really happens:
Christmas morning rolls around, and your precious youngsters run down the stairs to see all the pretty packages under the tree, labeled beautifully with the burlap and chalkboard gift tags you saw on Pinterest and stayed up all night making. They excitedly rip open their gifts, tossing the elaborate gift tags and wrapping behind their heads; they jump up and down with glee as they see they have received the fire station set that they have always wanted.
“Open it, open it, please!?!?” they proclaim.
You are so excited to give them this gift that has been sitting in your closet since Black Friday, when you stayed up all night and stood in the freezing cold in order to get it. So you tell your husband to grab his pocket knife, and you both go to town trying to get this sucker open.
Once you have spent 45 minutes opening the theft-proof/child-proof/parent-proof/wild animal-proof packaging and set the toy up for them, the kids have already found a new interest: the box it came in. So you go ahead and let the children be entertained by flimsy cardboard for a few minutes while you learn everything there is to learn about the new toy you just assembled.
Eventually, the box they were playing with rips and the little ones reluctantly come over to check out their new novelty toy. You teach them how to put the firefighter in the fire truck and how to make the lights flash, how to turn on the siren and honk the horn (something you will come to regret by the first time you finish microwaving your coffee). You tell them the names of all the figurines and how to make the plastic water splash out of the hose in order to put out the plastic fire.
Once you have them settled with their new toy, you skip happily to the bathroom to take a shower. You turn the hot water on, step into the steamy tub, dreaming of coming out clean with untangled, soft hair and smooth, silky hair-free legs. Then at the exact moment the warm water hits your greasy hair, you hear it: the creak of the door opening slowly, the patter of little feet on the bathroom tile, and the sweet toddler voice saying, “Mama, I need help peeeeese, firetruck water, can’t do it.”
At least he is enjoying his new toy, you think.
You barely have time to rinse the shampoo out of your hair before you realize he has gone from bugging you in the shower to throwing parts of his new toy — the one he just got — into the toilet bowl. You jump out of the shower with shampoo still running down your forehead and into your eyes, your hair rattier than it was before, and your legs anything but smooth. You quickly shoo your blue-eyed, curly haired, sticky-fingered boy out of the bathroom, telling him to go play and promising you’ll join him after you get dressed. You close and lock the bathroom door, dry off, and then slowly re-open the door, hoping to sneak into your room to get dressed without being spotted, but there are two little boys sitting cross legged outside of the bathroom door waiting for you — with their new toy completely abandoned in the other room. And so it begins all over again.
“Mama, whatcha doing?”
“Mama, what happened shower?”
“Mama, how about go to Papa’s house for presents now?”
Well, at least you got to wash your hair.
So a word from this not-very-wise and not-very-experienced mom: Just give the kids cardboard for Christmas, maybe a bowl of water, and a recording of all the answers you could possibly give to their many, many questions. You will be able to afford to keep the power on and skip the toy sales, and your kids will be just as un-entertained as they would have been with the overpriced pieces of plastic that make noise and light up.
Now take a deep breath, heat up your coffee, and enjoy the time leading up to Christmas, knowing you don’t even need to go near the toy aisle. Or at least make sure you have a bottle of wine in your fridge when you get back from shopping.
Because the truth is,we love the look on our kiddos’ faces when they open their gifts on Christmas morning. Whether we are answering their many questions while pushing trains on a wooden track, putting firemen into their trucks, or reading their new book with them, it really is some of the best time spent, even if our coffee is sitting across the room getting cold and our legs are so hairy that they blend in with the carpet.