My first pregnancy was a rude awakening. It wasn’t the swelling, the heartburn, or the inability to keep my pee in my body until I had decided by my own free will to let it out. It was the realization that baby stuff is U-G-L-Y. It’s all plastic. The color choices are as loud as the EDM blasting out of a lot of it. Sometimes, those noisy toys will go off without warning while you’re trying to fold some tacky Daddy’s Lil’ Slugger or Cute Like Auntie onesies that you didn’t ask for but everyone thought were a good idea to literally shower you with.
When my son was 2 and I was pregnant with my daughter, I decided to make a clean break. I rounded up the worst of it. Trains that sang the alphabet over and over. Turtles that put on light shows with music fit for a baby rave. Some weird-ass snail that rocked back and forth while making creepy noises that startled actual urine out of me once. And this keyboard from hell that was shaped like a cat and made meowing noises with every key stroke.
I smashed them all and scattered their remains across my front lawn as a warning to family and friends: “Come birthdays and Christmas, your torture devices are not welcome here.”
Or I donated them all. It’s a little fuzzy, what with the rage blackouts.
Devoted to a sense of minimalistic calm in our home, I neatly arranged baskets of wooden and cloth toys that would allow my children to use their imaginations. They would play with their toys, not be played at. Alphabet blocks and chunky puzzles. Non-sexually aggressive dolls. Wooden tracks and trains. All in comforting earth tones and natural textures. I stepped back and surveyed the beauty my children were going to grow up with, as any well-intentioned, pioneer hipster would.
My son set to work with some blocks, and I went to the kitchen to start making dinner. As I reached for a pot in one of the lower cupboards, I felt giddy over the peace and quiet I would be enjoying while cooking that afternoon.
I closed the cupboard and jumped. My son was standing on the other side, staring at me like some little freak from The Shining. I peed a little.
The next hours were spent playing defense. I danced between my child and a hot stove, trying to both keep him unharmed and keep the chicken from burning. While trying to dice one single sweet potato, there were no fewer than 12 interruptions with requests to play or read. I’m all for hanging out with my kid and living in the moment and shit, but it’s 5:15 p.m., buddy. Get out of my way, or we’re feasting on cereal for dinner.
I dashed to the television and popped in a DVD that I knew could do what I didn’t have time for at that exact moment: entertain my child. He crawled up on the couch, his eyes glazed over, and I backed out slowly as the tiniest bit of drool crept down his chin. Elmo, I’ve talked a lot of shit about you in the past, and for that, I am deeply sorry. You did me a solid tonight, my muppet.
In tossing all the electronic toys, I quickly came to understand their true value. No one with kids would invent those annoying-ass play things just for fun. They were created as a distraction, as a tool for our survival. And like a fool, I cast them aside without any appreciation for the role they played in our family.
Before you dispose of all the talking dolls and light-up noisemakers in your home, consider the cost. The cost of a part-time nanny and a mid-level personal chef, specifically. Spending quality time with your children is, of course, priceless. But so is the luxury of peeing by yourself without leaving the door open to listen for the sound of a small fire. If you’re about to start a major toy purge, do yourself a favor and stash a couple loud ones in a safe spot for the desperate times. Throw in some extra batteries for good luck. Me? I’ll be scouring consignment shops this weekend to buy our old toys back for double what I got for them.