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With the passing of Thanksgiving it feels like a sprint into Christmas. All that thankfulness we’re supposed to feel doesn’t even last through dinner anymore as people line up to get the best deals on gifts for Christmas, all before the turkey coma threatens to take us out. Not me though.  My days of bargain hunting with body armor is over. I’m too old and worn out for dueling over toys or electronics.

Christmas

As much as the holidays annoy me, I do it for my kids because it makes them happy and that’s all I really want in the end.

The older I get, the more I realize that I don’t actually like the holidays all that much. It’s supposed to be this time of pure happiness, but the truth is that the holidays are a hard time for many people. I guess it’s the assumption that you are supposed to be happy that irritates me.

The holidays stress me out to no end and if I didn’t have kids I might not bother with them at all. So I will suck it up and do it all over again for them because their smiles are the reason I go through the many pains of Christmas. Here are my top 12 Christmas pains EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.

1. The Christmas Cry – This is how I refer to the annual wave of sadness that knocks me on my butt every year. When you experience the loss of a loved one and I have many times over, the holidays offer that one-two punch of nostalgia and grief that yet another year has passed without that person or people. While I may feel sad at other times of the year, the Christmas Cry hits abruptly usually in the few weeks leading up to Christmas and it’s a  tradition I don’t look forward to.

2. Traveling – Nope, I just don’t love traveling for the holidays. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile you know just how much I love packing EVERY LITTLE THING my kids may or may not need while staying out of town (eyeroll). I also never sleep well in any bed but my own so a tired me is a crabby me.

3. Shopping – So I think I need to give up my “woman card” because I truly HATE shopping. Being given a deadline to shop for all the kids in my family and friends is just about as big of a nightmare as it gets. Just the thought of going to the mall at Christmas time makes me break out in hives from looking for an empty parking space, all the people crowding around me, stressing about which item to get each person to wondering if they will like it. Thank God for online shopping or I don’t know if I’d survive this part of the holidays.

4. Cooking – I’m not big on cooking on a week night so please don’t make me cook on the Super Bowl of holidays. Thank God for my husband who usually cooks for Christmas! Even if I do most of the cooking every other day of the year, I’ll happily call it an even trade.

5. Cleaning – There is nothing more futile than the stress of cleaning for gatherings that will ultimately end with cookie crumbs and wrapping paper EVERYWHERE.

6. Wrapping – As if wrestling with what to buy wasn’t enough, now I gotta spend twenty minutes wrapping some damn irregular sized toy box for two seconds of delayed excitement as my work is torn to shreds. Seriously, if it weren’t for my husband, everyone would be getting gift bags.

7. Overeating – Let’s just say that since my gallbladder surgery my body just won’t let me overindulge like it once did. If I overeat I get sick, but it’s so hard not to overdo it with all the delicious holiday treats. I’m going to have to kill it at the gym this week just to make up for Thanksgiving.

8. Comparing– We put soooooo much pressure on ourselves to provide a “good” Christmas for our kids, but it seriously seems like the stakes get higher every year. Thanks to social media we can all be voyeurs and try to live up to all the traditions of everyone else. I love to see those cute Elf on a Shelf pictures, but I just don’t have the time or patience to pose little dolls as yet another means of bribing my kids to be good. Who else remembers when the fear of the naughty list was enough?

The stakes with the presents gets higher when we know people will be posting pictures of their presents on social media the second the paper comes off. Let’s all agree to define our holidays for ourselves and know that it’s more about this time with our families than all the activities we do and all the stuff we buy. That’s probably all we’ll really remember years from now anyway.

9. Failed Expectations – There comes a tiny moment after the presents have been opened and the food has been eaten in which you look around and your house is messy once again, the anticipation of presents is now over and toys are scattered across the floor. You feel overly full and there are dirty dishes in the sink and you think, “That’s it? It’s over?” All the work and excitement is over. I know we should feel grateful and yet there is just a little twinge of sadness. Now comes the putting away of the toys and expectations until next year.

 

10. Ginormous Toy Catalogs – You can call it the great big book of awesome or whatever you want, but I’ll always think of these insane gimmicks as great big books of greed. The idea that I should give my kids a book and tell them to circle what they want is obnoxious. I don’t want to create greedy children for whom Christmas is all about getting instead of giving. This year, I’m working on a new “wish less” list of ways we can wish less for ourselves and give more to other people. My kids had some great ideas to add to our list.

11. The Tree – I’ll admit that I do like the smell of a fresh Christmas tree, but beyond that I really am not a big fan of this whole tradition. I don’t love going to a farm and picking it out, decorating it and spending the next few weeks vacuuming up the needles. I didn’t love putting together the fake trees we had in the past either. I’m not one who loves decorating so I honestly do the tree, some stockings and not much else. It looks pretty when it’s up, but then you get the fun job of taking it all down again.

12. Busting The Budget – We try to be good and we’ve gotten better about not putting presents on credit cards, but sticking to a budget any other time of the year is hard, but around the holidays it’s nearly impossible. Every time I think we’re done, my husband is sure to find just one more thing for the kids. I know better than to assess the damage until Christmas is over.

So while you might look at this list and think, “What a Scrooge! Why does she even bother?” I’ll tell you that I don’t love the holidays, but I love what the holidays give my children. It gives them an opportunity to honor God, believe in a little bit of magic, give to others, and find wonder in a simple string of lights. Like almost everything in my life, I recognize that it’s not about me anymore. It’s about them and I hope they read this post one day and know I go through all this stress and struggle for them and because I had amazing parents who did it for me.

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As the holidays quickly approach , I’m feeling nostalgic for toys that don’t completely suck. You know what I’m talking about. You buy a toy for your child hoping to make their holidays super special only for your child to play with it once, it breaks easily, drains batteries quickly, or takes so long to put together you get frustrated and your child gives up and moves on to another toy.

So I polled the women in my Facebook moms group to share with me the toys they loved and hated so that we could all avoid spending money on toys that aren’t worth it. So in no particular order, these are the toys that made the naughty or nice list. It’s not my intention to tell you what to buy. I’m simply letting you know what other parents thought about these particular toys.

The Naughty List

Flutterbye Fairies – Moms complained about them breaking super easily and not holding a charge for very long.

Juggle Bubbles – Even this mom agreed, these just don’t work.

Zoomer Puppy

Zoomer Puppy just doesn’t hold the kids’ attention for long.

Zoomer Puppy – Beyond being expensive, several moms said their kids lost interest in it as early as the day after Christmas.

Ferby

Ferbys may look sweet, but they can have a bad attitude.

Ferbys – Although some moms said their kids loved them, several moms complained they took on a mean personality and because this mom would never pay good money for a toy with a bad attitude it makes the naughty list.

Remote Control Helicopters Of Any Brand – Apparently these toys make even grown men cry when they ultimately lose control and go crashing to the ground. So save the money and tears and just skip this one.

Wubble Bubble – I was told this toy popped in a day. Honestly, it’s probably a good idea to skip any toys of the “As Seen On TV” variety.

Ice Cream Magic (As Seen On TV) – Kids need to do a whole lot of shaking for the two spoonfuls of ice cream it makes.

Disney Train Tracks  – Moms complained about the numerous tiny pieces and the fact that the trains never stayed on the tracks and that’s sort of the whole point of buying your kid a train.

Thomas the Train Take & Play sets – Moms said they were hard for the kids to put together and the trains fell off the tracks. Try going with a wooden set, moms seem to agree this is the better bet.

Moon Dough & Moon Sand – Picture play dough that is way harder to clean up and you’ll understand why most moms suggest passing on these.

Mega Blocks In The Smaller Brick Styles – While parents liked the bigger sized blocks for young kids, they said the smaller ones get stuck easily and are hard to pull apart.

Expensive Air Hog Set – I’m not sure of which exact set it is, but according to one mom the $80 set broke in one day.

Bunchems – You could find yourself or your child in need of a crew cut if you have the misfortune of getting these in your hair.

Any Kids Tablet

Easy Bake Oven – Though I loved this toy as a kid, I can honestly say we bought this for my daughter a few years ago and it was broken roughly the third time it was used. I guess they just don’t make them like they used to.

Rock ‘N Roll Elmo – One mom said it broke within a week.

Carrera Go Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles X-Loop Race Set – It’s reported to be so flimsy it falls apart with the slightest touch.

Fischer-Price Imaginext Supernova Battle Space Rover – One mom said that it’s GIGANTIC and was used by her child as a plastic battering ram.

Sofia the First Princess Sofia & Walking Minimus- It completely eats batteries.

Doc McStuffins Get Better Talking Mobile Cart – It reportedly falls apart.

Disney Frozen Elsa Doll Castle Playset

Disney/Pixar’s Brave Castle & Forest Playset

 

Make sure your child doesn't hug him too hard, he might break after the first one.

Make sure your child doesn’t hug Big Hugs Elmo too hard, he might just break after the first one.

Big Hugs Elmo – From what I hear his arms break after one hug, so he’s more like Cold Shoulder Elmo.

The Nice List

Fischer Price Doctor Set or any Doctor Set – These provide hours of entertainment for the kiddos.

Dolls that make NO noise – Suffice it to say, no annoying voices to listen to.

Wooden Train Sets – Trains seem to stay on these tracks better than their plastic counter parts.

Light Up Cars With Race Track from QVC – Moms said these really stand the test of time. They are still entertaining and running strong years after they were purchased.

Big Mega Blocks and Lego Duplos – Parents said they were easy for toddlers to use and didn’t have the ability to hide on the floor and attack your feet like the smaller versions.

Legos – Despite the high probability of stepping on them, they are still a fan favorite for parent’s whose kids will spend hours playing with them. I’m guessing that’s why Leggo is coming out with slippers now.

Melissa & Doug Toys – They are wooden and durable.

Toys R Us Journey Girls Dolls – They have the appeal of American Girl dolls without the hefty price tag.

Step 2 Kitchen Sets

Loving Family Dollhouse
Fisher Price Loving Family Dollhouse & Accessories

Hess trucks – These old favorites can still be found online.

Metal Tonka Trucks

Any Little People Toys

Hot wheels/Matchbox cars – Just be prepared to put the big track sets together yourself.

Wooden Blocks

Shopkins – I’ve been informed these are quite annoying, but kids love them so I guess it depends on your tolerance level.

 

Lil Woodzeez – If your kid likes Calico Critters these are a cheaper version. They can be found at Target and on Amazon. Moms described them as being good quality for the price.

Bikes, Roller Skates or Skateboards

Sporting Equipment/Gear – My oldest two are both doing basketball this year so as a combined gift we’re getting them a basketball hoop so they can practice at home.

Indoor or Outdoor Trampolines

Keyboard/Musical Instruments
Magna Tiles
Magna-Tiles

EZRoller

EzyRoller

vtech Go! Go! Smart Wheels Cars and Playsets

Tinker Toys

Lincoln Logs

Playmobil Toys

Foam Building Blocks – I’ve been informed these are excellent gifts for toddlers.

Vtech Go! Go! Smart Animals Zoo Explorers

So there you have it folks, the nice and not so nice list of toys. And while it’s tempting to obsess about what toys to get our kids, I know like me, most of you have kids with tons of toys already. One mom really put things in perspective when she said that her kids’ (ages 12 and 14) toy collections have now dwindled down to a single little box per child consisting of mostly Happy Meal Toys. After all the money spent on toys, isn’t that a kick in the teeth? So  I say, forget what’s hot now and go instead for classic toys that are built to last and check out my list of non-toy gifts for kids. Happy Shopping!

*All toy images found on amazon.com

In my last post I expressed my thorough dissatisfaction with toys these days. With Christmas coming up quickly I knew I had to gather ideas for alternative presents for my kids. I know that they’ll inevitably get toys, but I wanted to come up with a good list of things I hope will be more useful or last longer than a toy. So while I know this post isn’t going to affect sales at Toys ‘R Us this holiday season I wanted to share ideas with parents that hopefully might leave more lasting impressions on their kids. I want to thank the Hudson Valley Moms group on Facebook for some great ideas. Here they are in no particular order:

Clothes

1.Coats, hats, scarves, snow suits, school clothes, dress up outfits, boots, snuggly pajamas or socks. I think I’m going to stuff some socks in my kids stockings this year as they are super hard on their socks and could use some extra pairs. Maybe some Christmas themed ones or just colorful or snuggly ones.

Financial Security

2. I truly love the idea of using the holidays as an incentive to open 529 college savings accounts for your kids and asking family and friends for contributions. You can do this with an IRA or existing savings account as well. This is perfect for babies and toddlers as they aren’t going to miss extra toys and starting an account early means that the account will yield more in interest by the time they are ready for college. If family insists on buying toys, you might want to suggest that they buy a small gift and make a small financial gift as well. So if they were going to spend $20 on a toy, ask them to buy a $10 toy instead and contribute $10 for their college fund. Guess which one is going to be more valuable in the long run?

Special Interests/Hobbies

3. Nurture a child’s special interests this holiday season. What does the child like to do? Cook – try their own apron and a cookbook to use together. Photography – camera and photo album. Science – microscope. Star gazing – telescope. The sky’s the limit, just let the child be your guide.

Hannah and Jay meet a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle at the Hudson Valley Renegades Game

Hannah and Jay meet a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle at the Hudson Valley Renegades Game

Trips/Outings

4. I love, love, love the idea of taking the kids to see a play, visit a children’s museum or go on a special vacation in lieu of toys under the tree. Some moms suggested season passes to kid friendly destinations both in and outside the Hudson Valley. Anything from local museums to water parks like Splash Down to big theme parks like Disney Land, Great Escape, etc. There are endless possibilities and the quality time spent with your kids will live forever in their memories. Still want them to unwrap something? How about hiding clues in envelopes and opening a last box or envelope with a photo of the destination with the words “we’re going” with a date or just the year 2015? You could also have a family member get your child a suitcase or sleeping bag with the promise of an upcoming sleepover. Now there’s a present moms and dads can appreciate too!

Mommy helping Jay skate

Mommy helping Jay skate

Learning Rocks

5. The holidays are a perfect excuse to fire up a kid’s love of learning. Books and e-books are awesome. I also love to get my kids book bags for the following school year as they’re often half price this time of year. How about new pencil cases and stickers to decorate them, school supplies, globes, maps, dry erase boards, etc.?

Lessons/Classes

6. It’s often cost prohibitive for parents to put their kids in lessons or classes so the holidays give friends and family a chance to help fund them. Whether it’s ice skating, piano, karate, gymnastics or dance, your child is sure to be thrilled with this gift that will keep on giving with each new class.

Practicality Rules!

7. Ok you know the Discount Diva values practicality. How abut rechargeable batteries to literally give new life to the numerous toys they already have? What about storage bins, toy boxes and book shelves to provide better access and storage for existing items? I scored some great deals on books at my local consignment shop – easy readers for my 5 year-old and chapter books for my 7 year-old so they could really use book shelves. I also like to stuff their stockings with new tooth brushes and toothpaste, along with candy of course. Young babies don’t often play with toys anyway so why not get them diapers and wipes, toiletries, hooded towels, spoons, dishes, convertible car seats or umbrella strollers, or my latest life-saver a paci clip which keeps parents from having to pick up and clean pacis repeatedly. Also formula or jars of baby food, or a baby food maker for parents to make their own baby food. Little girls love cute hair accessories like headbands and ponytail holders so why not put together a set?

Music & Art

8. I only recommend buying a child a musical instrument under the following conditions – you are the parent, the other parent has signed off, and you have a room with a door to shut for practicing. If those conditions have been met then go for it. Music can be one of the healthiest ways for children to express themselves. Art is another great way so think easels, drawing pads, markers, paints, stencils, modeling clay and even specialty items like origami sets.

Daddy and Jay Fishing

The Great Outdoors

9. I know kids love electronics, but since I consider them really expensive toys, I’ll talk about an alternative I love. I love anything that gets kids to play outside. Not everyone can afford big trampolines and swingsets, but you might be amazed at the deals you can find online for used sets. My sister-in-law recently moved to a different state and ended up having to sell her giant swing set for $500 when it cost her $1,000 more than that when she purchased it a year before. There are also bikes, scooters, kites, roller skates and sporting equipment. My husband recently taught my kids how to fish and I know they’d be tickled pink to get their own fishing poles, especially because it means more special time with daddy. Sleds and snow tubes are awesome gifts this time of year.

Snow tubing

Celebrate Coming Of Age

10. Perhaps you have a child on the verge of starting or finishing potty training? Then big boy/girl underwear would make some mighty fine motivation. Do you have a teenager about to get her permit? Then driving lessons might be just the ticket (hopefully so they can avoid tickets). I’m not a big fan of giving kids cell phones, but if you have a tween or early teen this might be the perfect gift to show them that you recognize that they are growing up. You can always do a pre-paid phone to keep costs down. Perhaps your child is ready for a more “grown up” room with new décor and bedding set. I got my daughter a big girl comforter when we were about to transition her to a big girl bed to get her excited about the idea. As much as we hate to see them getting bigger, celebrating their coming of age moments with a special gift is truly meaningful. Last year I got my daughter’s ears pierced and got her earrings and she was thrilled. It showed her that I thought she was old enough to make the decision for herself and she took the piercing like a champ – not even crying once.

A big thank you to all the ladies who contributed ideas for this list. Feel free to share more ideas as well. I wish you all a meaningful gift giving season to come. If you’re like me, with piles of toys cluttering up your house you may want to share this post with friends and family to help spark some new ideas.

Right now I am sitting in a small bagel shop and eating trout, goat cheese and basil on bagel. That sets the stage for the day I am having. It is definitely not like eating lunch at McDonalds or Subway. 

I am in New York City shopping for puppets and I decided to visit the biggest kids’ toy store…FAO Schwartz on Fifth Avenue and 58th Street right off Central Park. With three levels of absolute joy it was hard to determine where to start. Everywhere there were stuffed animals…from the big elephants and giraffes to small dogs and cats. And in the middle of the first floor is this huge candy store which kids (and adults) can’t resist.

Throughout the store kids are encouraged to touch and hug everything they can get their hands on. There are books for the preschoolers with a comfortable area to sit and read. In their Muppet corner you can make your own characters by choosing your favorite Muppet-type body, and then add eyes, hair, hats, clothes and more. When I went, there was a 60 minute wait…so I guess it is popular.

There girl’s dress-up corner offers about 50 different outfits and they had a corridor with wild animals on both sides. Then there is the doll section with baby dolls being attended to by employees dressed up as nurses…I thought that was a bit much.

Everywhere the staff seemed very engaged in working and playing with the children. And the store was packed.

So if you want a day of fun (Just don’t bring any credit cards) be sure to visit FAO Schwartz in New York City.

When is the last time you visited NYC? And what’s your favorite place to visit with the kids?

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