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Gifted toys from... uncles

Yesterday, a Twitter friend was kvetching about the Christmas gift given by her brother to her young boys: a Leapster video game "made and marketed by Satan's helpers." I could relate, as my brothers-in-law (both sides of the family) have made themselves famous in the house for their extremely loud, blinking-lights, electronic gifts, often given with the best of intentions: they're marketed as "educational" toys, after all. There was the Barney monstrosity with the alphabet buttons and the voice I couldn't even recognize, except that it was enough to drive me out of my head. There was the toy I like to think of as "baby's first TV," a little scrolling translucent screen with 80s-style plastic doodads that prompted different "soundtracks," targeted at one-year-olds (really, toy companies?).  There was the Transformers helmet found at the bins that changed everyone's voice into an Autobot's voice, loudly (not educational, but surely delightful for boys).

This year, it's the Nerf guns, everyone's favorite toy, right? I watch my two-year-old walk upstairs with a gun on his shoulder, looking for all the world like Matt Damon's character in a movie with lots and lots of shooting. Except littler, and barefoot.

I've slowly banished most of the loud toys from the house, but sometimes you just have to let a kid play with the dearly beloved terror. And there is no shortage of over-priced, enormous, loud toys, the manufacture of which must have the carbon footprint of a cross-country drive in an SUV, the marketing of which is surely delight at "spending time together" as you watch your child "learn" by pushing buttons and listening to the resulting cacaphony. Toy companies make a lot of money from aunts, uncles, and a goodly portion of parents who have bought the marketing pitch hook, line and C batteries. I think the best approach is education: not of our kids, but of other adults out there who are paying for the stuff in the first place. So tell me: how can we spread the word that the best education is a puzzle, a book, a crayon, a pebble, a ball, a stick (even if it's in the shape of a gun) and some quiet(ish) face time with your son, daughter, niece, nephew, granddaughter, godson? The sound of the toy companies' marketing is deafening.


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I'm all for time with crayons, sticks and beautiful leaves discovered on long walks, but my boy loves his electronics and will sit for long periods of time learning and trouble-shooting ways to get it right. A happy balance is what it's all about in this house and I don't mind the noises and batteries that go along with it. For what it's worth my son has learned TONS from his leapster, and I'm not ashamed to admit it!

Ha! I liked this post because my kids have an uncle who's fond of gift-giving. We're lucky because Uncle J. always asks us for birthday/Xmas gift suggestions - so try letting those uncles know that you're willing to provide gift ideas if they want; they'd probably be happy for the tips. Uncle J.'s best gift this year: Our oldest had asked Santa for a specific Lego set, so Uncle J. bought it (even though he had to give up credit for the gift). Then he and his nephew spent 90 minutes putting it together, just the two of them. Usually, the kid takes apart a Lego creation within a day or two. But as of this morning, this one is still intact. I'm guessing that's partly because of the special time he spent on it with his uncle.

How funny. My uncle gave my son a giant mobile crane with flashing lights and really bad music for Christmas. In some ways it was my own fault. My uncle asked for ideas and I was too vague. I should have given him a specific list of items to choose from. For my son's birthday this same uncle gave him Brio train pieces from a list I gave him. I have learned my lesson.

I think you just need to be specific and tell everyone what you and your kids really want.

My Dad gave my 5 year old son a bullhorn that makes different noises. A bullhorn. Thanks, pop. It has been banished to an "outside toy" (sorry neighbors) and will go with us next time we visit. But he never listens to my suggestions anyway.

We've made it clear that battery operated toys are not good gifts for our kids and no one needed to be told that guns aren't welcome. With some people I'll take the rap for it by saying I can't handle the noise but really, my kids get very little from the electronic toys that we do have (gifts despite the requests). When the batteries die, we usually tell the kids the toy is broken and interest is lost.

The grandparents have seen the kids playing with battery-operated toys at their house and kid-powered toys at home and now, finally, have decided the kids get more from the non-electronic! Yay!

I'll hold my head up high and say that my 4 year old has a Leapster (bought by her electronics gadget obsessed daddy) and it has actually been great. She doesn't get it daily, but it has come in handy on long trips, waiting at the Dr's office, etc. We have educational games only, and she has learned a great deal - even some spanish words, as well as practice writing her ABC's (which she also does using paper and pen).

I think this is just another case of moderation is best. If you don't like what others give, then give them suggestions, or donate the toys to someone else.

I agree with a lot that's already been said. I've found that if I am SPECIFIC, it goes a long way.
Also, giving a little room for moderation is something I always feel is a healthy margin. I once fell in love with a compact SUV on the lot, got in to drive it and immediately got out when the salesman pointed out that "It comes stock with a built in DVD player!"...on the other hand my daughter DOES have a portable DVD player that has come in handy on TWO cross country drives and the occasional day when I need to get work done but don't want to necessarily take her to a sitter...

I also keep in mind that these gifts and time spent with relatives outside of the immediate home (which in no way diminishes their importance in my daughter's life) is fringe time. The MAJORITY of her childhood is being spent with her father and myself, in her own home and the influences there are what I want them to be (i.e lots of face time, etc, etc). A weekend at Pop's with HI-C juice boxes (how do they get away with calling that stuff juice?!?!) and five movies in two days IS not going to derail her fundamentally development. LOL
All things in moderation...:-) The bottom line is that she knows all of these people love her, regardless of what they bring in shiny packages on special occasions.

I wish I could say that my in-laws actually listen to my suggestions,but they haven't. This year my son was given an ambulance with all the bells and whistles and a huge helicopter with the same. I will let the batteries run out and then he will care less. I hate these noisy, big plastic toys, but realize that there is only so much I can do to influence my mother-in-law to make good choices.

Help! My brother bought my son a plastic fisher price train set with lights and noises. I haven't given it to him yet...I said Santa brought too many toys and we are opening one a day. Truth is, I spent hours researching the perfect wooden/ age appropriate/ waldorf toys for my 2 1/2 yr old son. He received wooden barn, felted animals and playsilks. My entire family knows this about me, but I guess my brother missed that memo. Anyway how do I deal w/o hurting my brothers feelings? He does live 3000 miles away but we also occassionally skype. I thought of giving the gift to my son for a limited time, but that's not consistent w my values and it's cruel. I also thought of buying him a wooden train to talk about on skype. Is that wrong? Ps my bro doesn't necessarily know anything of waldorf as he's younger than me and nowhere near child rearing.

Our kids' Uncle J. is a musician and has always given the kids instruments. This was fine back in the day of the shake-shake cucumber and red pepper, the ukelele, and the tamborine. The trumpet? Not so much. The drum set?! Have mercy, bro!

Uncle J., I need hardly add, is childless.

When our eldest was born, DHs best bud was childless. At our son's 1st birthday, the friend went to Toys R Us and literally asked for "the most annoying toy you have in stock."

Thanks dude.

Fast-forward 5 years, and the friend now has a baby. Since that kid has been born, I have been buying the most obnoxious toys I can find (including re-gifting the original boom box that started this whole "war").

I'm a moderation person, so I have alot of tolerance for the variety. For me, I've decided that I have my values around what I will spend my money on and that dictates MY toy purchases. Just because I won't spend my money on something doesn't mean someone else won't, and I don't need to fight the battle of aesthetics/education with someone who isn't interested in it. If it's an interesting toy, whether or not I like it, my kids will play with it and it will hang around. If it's something lame, they'll enjoy the sounds for a day and then move on.

My mom and I were actually having a conversation before Christmas about a toy she was thinking about getting the kids. I started asking her "is it wood or plastic, is it something that can be added to, etc." I stopped myself when I heard what I was saying and realized I was actually being a little obnoxious about her generosity. My mom understands my values and has gone out of her way to avoid battery things, and has often remarked about how my children actually PLAY (and she understands this has something to do with how we raise them, which is a plus!). She found something she thought they would enjoy and I needed to just let go of my own judgments about it. It's her money, her gift, and it was certainly something she put thought into. That is enough for me. We'll see what the kids do with it. It's not something I would have purchased, but there's no reason I shouldn't let them have it.

As for the wishlist thing, I have to say that I received an unsolicited wishlist this year and I found it really offensive. Yes, I know I was planning to get something for the person and I can understand someone thinking this is helping me. But. It implies that I have no ability to choose an appropriate gift on my own and leaves me no room to choose something I would like to give the recipient outside the list. The unspoken message to me was "you can get me something, but only if it is this." It really put me off. So, I understand the desire to make those wishlists, but I would say to reserve them for the folks who ask for it.

Finally, yemango, a funny story for you. One year we got two similar toys for the kids, one plastic, one wooden. I love the wooden one. To this day, it is only the plastic one that gets played with. I say give him the train and let go of it. He'll play with it or not, and you'll surround him with all the other things you want him to have. Someday you may add a wooden train to the mix, and the plastic one may have staying power, or it might not. We can give our kids exposure to our values till the cows come home, and then we have to let them go and see what THEY will make of this world.

I agree, I think it's worthwhile to allow kids to play with a range of toys and let their preferences determine whether the toy is perenially available or quietly disappears to the closet after its initial appeal fades. In my experience most battery-operated, clangy toys lose their appeal quickly but, in the realm of plastic toys, we've had a few that proved fabulous-- e.g., a $7 plastic doll stroller that has been used almost daily for YEARS.

Re gift list etiquette, this year I emailed family members requesting Christmas ideas for them. Almost all responded with ideas, and requested same from us. That seemed an inoffensive way to provide suggestions for our daughter.

Maybe because we have sufficient toys (or could purchase those "needed"), this is not an issue that bothers me much. I regift or donate the duds. However, if we were less fortunate and the misguided gifts meant that desired and "needed" gifts weren't possible for my daughter, I suppose I'd be more disturbed. On the other hand, they're presents! They're mostly about the giver, and the intent, and possibly about the giver's sense of the recipient. Not about me and my values.

I do an amazon wish list for my daughter and my family appreciates it since they know that I know her best and want to get her something she wants and also hope to NOT buy her something she already has! I think it works well, although of course doesn't prevent people from buying her things off the wish list, which could be any number of annoying gadgets. Of course, for the younger ones, you can hide those and they won't be any the wiser. ;)

We also do the wishlist on amazon, but most grandparents use it as a "guide" for "ideas" and still get what they want. We don't send it out, just let them know that it is up to date. They also call for additional specifics. Apparently the Lego Store was a bit overwhelming this year.

Everything in moderation is our philosophy. Our kids have Leapsters and I think they are great. They don't use them all the time and the games at least have some educational value. First choice is always outdoor play or board games/reading/Legos but sometimes we break out the noisy plastic stuff, too. I would love to be one of those no-TV/ crayons/ pebbles/string/ wood toys-only households but that is just not realistic for us. And I am pretty sure my kids will turn out okay!

It's not the loud, annoying gifts that irritate me as much as it's the sheer number of toys the kids receive and mine are only 3.5 and 10 months. Good lord, how many toys does a kiddo need!?!?!

Remember when we were kids? How many toys did we have? Did we have a favorite?

Today, with all the toys, and kids still say "I'm bored." Grrrrrr.

Just this week I took three bags full of new and slightly used toys to a couple of people in need that I found on Craigslist. And I have how many more Xmas's and b-days to go?!

What I have been doing as of the last b-day is emphasizing via the photos and videos I post on facebook how wonderful the art supplies/coloring books are and that we LOVE the zoo and OMSI and bakeries:O) And one sister-in-law and I have agreed to never buy gifts for each others' little kids though handmade and hand-me-downs are OK.

Shipping $$$ alone should be a red flag.

I have tried wish lists, but I only send them to our immediate families of origin mostly because they usually ask. I have tried to put a variety of items on it, ranging in price range and type of gift, so all will be encouraged to participate.

Alas, we still get heaps of stuff with batteries & princesses (stuff I really dislike in our house). Today, sorting through all the stuff, I felt so exasperated and am considering issuing a mortatorium on gifts, but I hate to be unappreciative. We love the love, but I need someone to pump the breaks on all this stuff that breaks or goes unused/unwanted. I am considering requesting non-material items only next Christmas: museum memberships, theater tickets, gift certs for plane fare to visit all the family.

Ahhhh, I like the plane ticket idea. Much of my family hint about us visiting them. I counted the places we'd need to hit across the country: five! And when you think about the expense of 3 soon to be 4 tickets and car rental, ouch! Plus, the thought of traveling cross country with toddlers...sorry, but either help with my tickets or you come to the beautiful Pacific NW to see us:O)

Please mindful that you and and your family and friends have enough resources to be concerned with what kind of gift your child is getting. If the gifts are not to your liking you could also regift them to a homeless shelter.

While I certainly don't love every gift my child gets from my Uncle J., it is a something he is giving with thoughtfulness and love. And really that is what is important.

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