It may be anathema to write this as someone who derives a portion of his income from the advertisements in parenting magazines, but here it goes: I am done with baby toys.
I’ll buy my kids toys, sure, but not until they’re mature enough to recognize them as such and explain to me how they plan to use them. I’ve now raised nearly four years worth of kid, and shelled out four years worth of dough on innumerable toys that currently lie in dusty heaps around the house, and I can unequivocally state that not one of my boys has ever spent more than 40 seconds playing with anything anyone deliberately designed or manufactured as a “toy.”
As I write this, I am on babysitting duty. I’m stationed at a laptop on a small desk in our playroom and Max, my 9-month-old, is fending for himself on the floor. In the playroom there is a large wicker “Moses basket” which used to house an infant Max, but now sits atop a shelf filled with all the second-tier toys we’re letting lie fallow in the hope that the boys will forget about them and then approach them with renewed vigor at a later date.
At some point this morning, or possibly last night, the Moses basket was dragged off the shelf by one of my sons and its contents spilled out onto the floor. This means that right now, sprawled across the floor of the playroom, is pretty much every toy in our entire house. There are a few sundry items in the living room, yes; and a couple diversions up where the boys sleep, but I’d guess that about 90% of the toys we own are now in a huge pile on the floor of this room. And sitting in the middle of this incredible, mind-blowing heap of expensive playware is my son Max, who is entertaining himself with... a sheet of notebook paper.
I am not a big betting man. But one bet I would take is that if you were to strew the floor of a laboratory with all the child-developmental-specialist-designed Toys of the Year from the last 50 years, and then you added a remote control and a Sharpie, and you left my kids in there for 3 minutes, when you got back to the lab, Max would be chewing the remote, and Oliver would be holding the Sharpie. If you put in a dog toy, they’d be fighting over that.
Although it’s a contributing factor, seeing Max sitting in a $700 heap of toys playing with a sheet of paper was not the genesis of my plans for a toy embargo. In fact, I’ve been “toying” with the idea ever since what we call The Box Box Incident.
TBBI, involved Oliver and a set of the most beautifully illustrated and conceived alphabet nesting boxes you’ve ever seen. I don’t know who made the boxes, and I think you now know that I consider toy design to be probably the world’s most useless and unnecessary occupation, but whoever made these stacking boxes was an unmitigated genius. The boxes are big—when you stack all ten they make a tower about three feet high—and while they follow the familiar formula of illustrating each letter with a different animal, they eschew the tired antelopes and zebras of the animal kingdom in favor of underrepresented and vastly more interesting creatures like the periwinkle, the xanthos, the ermine and the cuttlefish.
When I first saw the boxes—I believe they were a gift from Nana Sylvia, thank you Nana Sylvia—I was enchanted. I thought to myself, “Well, that’s the end of that. Those are surely the finest toys ever made and Oliver will never play with anything else ever again.”
Given my thoughts you can imagine the impact it had on me when I watched my son leave the artfully, impeccably, creatively crafted boxes entirely untouched and spend the next 45 minutes playing with… the box the boxes came in!
I don’t know how he even differentiates between the box’s box and the boxes themselves, but I’ll tell you this, for every second he spent playing with the actual boxes, he spent 10 playing with their packaging. So if you’re ever lucky enough to receive an invite to Casa Connolly, please prepare yourself for the fact that all my kids’ playthings come from Staples and the recycling bin. It’s not because I’m cheap or weird, it’s how they like it.
Here's a bonus picture of the lads playing, naturally, with boxes.