What NOT to buy for the holidays

Well friends, here in the USA, it is almost Thanksgiving, and the holiday shopping rush will soon be upon us.  I would like to take a little time to discuss with you, my kind readers, a few tips for  your holiday shopping lists.  I know most of the articles you are accustomed to reading around this time of year talk about the “best gifts to give” or the “hottest toys of the year”, but I think that sometimes knowing what not to buy can be just as informative, if not more informative, than a list of most-wanted items.  With this in mind,  I am going to take you through some of the worst things to ever take up space on our family’s personal toy shelves. Because I love all of you, I have compiled a list of the most annoying, most obnoxious, most unworthy toys that you should definitely NOT  put on your Christmas lists.  Grandparents–listen up!  This goes for you too!  So without further ado, here are the most annoying toys we have ever owned:

Tickle me Elmo TMX edition:  My son received this on his second birthday, and it scared the crap out of him the first dozen times we used it.  Pressing Elmo’s belly or foot induces a fit of muppet laughter which sometimes includes hysterics such as rolling over, kicking his legs, and pounding his paws on the floor.  Once Nate got over his crippling fear, it was kind of funny, for a little while.  But after your toddler compulsively pushes Elmo’s tummy  80 times in a row before breakfast, it is NOT  FUNNY ANYMORE.  Also, we nearly went broke trying to keep batteries in this thing.  It took 6 AA batteries, and Elmo ate those things like he was at some kind of all-you-can-eat battery buffet.  When the batteries would start to fizzle out, we would sometimes hear Elmo give a random, unprompted giggle from the bottom of the toy box while we were trying to unwind after the kids were in bed.  Creepy.  A special thank you to my in-laws for bringing this red fuzzy ball of laughter into our lives.  Pretty sure they don’t sell this one anymore, but there are lots of other talking/giggling variations on this theme that would be worthwhile staying away from.

Despicable Me Fart Blaster:  Again, this one came to us as a gift from my in-laws.  I love you guys.  Also, are you mad at me?  Did I do something wrong?  I really try to be a good daughter-in-law, so it is hard for me to understand your insatiable need to torture me with battery-operated toys.  In my in-laws defense, my sweet, delicate daughter did ask for this toy by name a few years ago.  This toy is a hit with pretty much every kid who has ever stepped foot into our house, for obvious reasons.  Compared with all of our other toys, it also spends an inordinate amount of time out of reach in our uppermost cabinet in “time out”.  It basically looks like an air horn, with a variety of fart sounds for your enjoyment.  Really great for those of you trying to discourage the constant potty humor with your school-age children.  There is a  similar item on the market which looks equally annoying, called the Tech Gear Multi-Voice Changer.  I suggest steering clear for the sake of your sanity.

Moon Sand:  There are no words for how much I despise this stuff.  Some kid whose mother obviously hates me gave this to one of my kids at a birthday party, and the next thing I knew it was everywhere. In every nook and cranny, between every floorboard, in every tiny crevice.  And because it doesn’t absorb water and never dries out, it is completely impossible to clean up.  Ugh.  I kept waiting to get an invite back to that kid’s party so we could give him an ant farm with a hole in it.

Melissa and Doug Band in a Box:  This one was my fault.  I bought this for the kids one Christmas thinking it would be a fun way to foster a love of music in my young children.  Indeed, when the were crawlers and early walkers, it was just too precious to watch them shaking the little maracas and tapping on the tambourine in time to their favorite kiddie music.  But as they got older, it became apparent that this toy was just another way for them to make a ridiculous amount of noise.   And you know what?  They do not need any help with that.  And the cymbals, good heavens , the cymbals.  Remember that skit from SNL with Will Farrell and the cow bell?  “You know what this needs?  MORE COW BELL!  It’s just like that, except with cymbals.  Help me, Jesus.

Squawking Rubber Chicken:  I am happy to tell you that we have never owned this toy.  Whoever came up with this idea is the devil incarnate.  Seriously.  If you don’t believe me, check out this video of the chicken in action.

Trust me when I tell you this: when it comes to toys, less is more.  Toys that make less noise, toys that have less pieces to keep track of, toys that require less (or no) batteries, and toys that do not take 2 hours to assemble.  Allow these principles to be your guiding light as you shop for the children in your life.

While we are on the subject of holiday giving, let’s have a quick chat about your child’s teacher.  Most of us feel the need to get a little something for teachers at holiday time.  My husband used to teach elementary school and would himself come home with bags filled with tokens of appreciation the day before Christmas break.  And while your teachers all appreciate the thought and spirit behind the gifts, as the wife of a former teacher, I implore you:  Do not buy your child’s teacher a mug.  Please trust me on this.  Yes, even if it is filled with candy or other confections.  Every year, we would receive an average of 10-15 mugs from students per year. First year:  “Yay!  Look at all the hot chocolate we can drink!”  Second year:  ummm…I don’t have any more room in the cabinets for those mugs, honey, might have to use some to hold your pencils at school.  Third year:  “If you bring home any more mugs, I will cut you”.  So please, just don’t.  Just say “no” to mugs, kids.

I do have a few fun suggestions though, for those of you who are looking for some creative and meaningful gifts*.  These are not well suited to young kids (who rarely appreciate creative and meaningful gifts anyway!) but may find a place on your list for other special people in your life.  Here are a few things I have come across recently that I really love:

Deux Mains:  This is great little shop that I was introduced to while in Haiti earlier this year.  Deux Mains is a small footwear company in Port-au-Prince that exists to empower Haitians to be financially self-sufficient by creating jobs that pay a fair living wage.  They partner with Rebuild Globally, a non-profit organization that engages in business development, job training, and education in Haiti.  They sell some of the most beautiful (and comfortable!) sandals and flip-flops I have ever worn, and, neato-skeeto, they use recycled tires to make them!  You can order their products online, which will ship from their warehouse in Miami, but rest assured that the labor of love all takes place in Haiti.

Noonday Collection:  This is another fair-trade business that sells jewelry and accessories from artisans all over the world.  Your purchase helps to support the artisans in their respective countries and provide dignified employment.   You can shop by country or just browse the collection online.

Mantrabands:  I am really digging these.  They look so stylish and fun stacked up, and you can pick the message(s) you want as your own personal mantra.

Emily McDowell Studio:  I really love this little online shop that sells cards, journals, and gifts that are both hilarious and refreshingly honest.  Need a little something for that person you know who is going through a hard time?  You will likely find it here.

Story People:  A good friend introduced me to this sweet little shop filled with art that combines whimsical illustrations with soul-soothing poetry.  You can find cards, books, calendars, ornaments, and the like here.  If nothing else, it is so fun just to peruse all of the different “stories”.

Design-her gals:  This site is so much fun, and great for that friend on your list who likes personalized stationary.  You can create an account for free, and then design and save any number of “gals”  (or guys) to look like you, your best friend, your mom, your sister, or whoever is on your list.  Kind of like a bitmoji (though this company predates bitmojis by almost a decade).  Then you can have your personalized image printed up on whatever gift item you choose from the store’s offerings.

So, talk to me!   What are the most annoying toys to ever enter YOUR house?  What would you never buy again?  And what are your favorite gifts of the moment?

*My blog is not sponsored, so I am not trying to sell you anything!  These are just some of my personal favorites!  Kind of like “Oprah’s favorite things” but way less famous and with no giveaways!

A season of change

 I know some people who are not good at saying “no” to things.  As a result, they find themselves over-scheduled, over-committed, and spread thin.

I am not one of those people.  I don’t like to have a full calendar or a busy schedule.  To that end, I say “no” to social engagements and requests to be involved all the time.  “No” comes fairly easily to me.

I am particularly good at saying “no” to my children.  For me it is, in fact, almost a knee-jerk reaction to most every request that is lobbed in my direction.

“Can I have my own iPhone?”

“Can I invite 47 eight year-olds plus all of our neighbors and their cats to my birthday party?”

“Can I have waffles with maple syrup and whipped cream and sprinkles and candy on top for breakfast?”

Can I have my own You Tube channel?
Uh, no.

The requests are never-ending, I can hardly keep up.  I could probably just have a tape recorder (do those even exist anymore?  How old am I anyway?) parked in a corner of the kitchen with my voice saying “NO” at 6 minute intervals.  I would likely intercept a few requests that way and save myself some headaches.  Or perhaps I would have an uninterrupted shower from time to time?  Hmmmm.

The thing I am realizing is that, though I may be the master of the “no”, I need to also be better at saying “yes”.

I was sitting on the couch on a quiet Saturday afternoon last weekend, book in hand, with the sun shining in the window and my favorite quilt on my legs.  My favorite weekend posture was interrupted by my little guy who came in and said, “Want to go out and play in the leaves with me mom?”  I had a second where I felt the “no” rising up, my knee-jerk reaction, with all of the attached excuses.  I had just sat down.  I had been doing chores all day.  I hadn’t been feeling well.  I wanted to read my book.

Then I looked at him.  How much longer will this kid want to play in the leaves with his mom?  How many more golden autumn days will I be able to do this with him before he starts preferring his friends over me, or gets a girlfriend, or goes off to college?

So I said yes.  And look what happened:

We had fun, we connected, and we made memories.  I am so glad that I didn’t succumb to my knee-jerk reaction of “no”.  Instead I stepped into the discomfort of the “yes”.  It wasn’t uncomfortable once I got there, but making the transition from “no” to “yes” always involves a little discomfort for me, a little stretching, like working out some stiff muscles when you get out of bed in the morning.  Your bed is warm and cozy, and you want to stay put under your covers.  But when you do haul yourself out of bed, there is coffee waiting, and the sun is shining, and you decide that it’s good that you got out of bed, because there are some fun things and some important things coming your way that day.

The last month or so I have been getting ready to make a change.  I am in transition.  I made some personal realizations that I had to say “no” to some things and some people that I really cared about, in order to say “yes” more often to my people at home.  And perhaps more importantly, in order to say “yes” to me, and what I really need right now.  It is not a very graceful transition for me.  There have been a lot of worries, tension, tooth-grinding, and a few sleepless nights.  A lot of concern about what other people will think or feel, fear of letting people down, and fear of the unknown.  I have been afraid to come out of my comfy bed, so to speak.  The stretch from the “no” which keeps me where I am, to the “yes” of moving forward, demands discomfort.

And then there’s autumn.  Autumn is just out there, doing her thing, bursting into color, making her transition in the most glorious, beautiful way possible, with no concern over what people think about summer making its exit and giving way to a long, cold winter.

Autumn is such a show-off.

Most of the transitions that I make in my life look a lot less like the beauty and grace of autumn, and a lot more like the bitterness of February giving way to the unpredictability of March.  I have always thought that March was the most hideous month, all slushy and mucky and dreary. There will be a day here or there with a break in the weather, giving some hope that spring is coming, only to snow again, covering up the progress that the warm sun had made. Once the snow finally melts and the ground has thawed, we look around only to see that the grass is brown, the gardens are a mess, and there is a lot of work to do.  That sounds a lot more like my transitions.

So, me and autumn are going to do this transition thing together.  She is going to remind me that it is possible to move from one thing to the next with beauty and grace, and that even the most beautiful changes leave a big pile of leaves to rake up at the end.  Transitions are always labor-intensive in some way.

Just like I’m learning to say “yes” to my kids, I’m learning to say “yes” to change. Let the leaves fall where they may.

“As uncertain as I was as I pushed forward, I felt right in my pushing, as if the effort itself meant something.”               ~Cheryl Strayed