Guest Post: Kristen

I met Kristen during Momalom‘s wonderful five for five week.  Her blog is a fantastic gathering place for women and men everywhere.  While she does discuss topics pertaining to motherhood, she also touches on things like balance and writing.  I find her writing to be engaging and entertaining.  She teaches all of us with a creative flair that has me coming back for more.  On top of that, her blog is named after a form of speech that I researched quite in depth while in school.  A form of speech that we all use at one time or another without realizing its usefulness–Motherese.  I am sure that once you read this delightful piece you will excitedly click on over to her blog. Please do!  I promise that you will not be disappointed.

Black Friday
by Kristen @ Motherese

Big Boy is in a playgroup.  Friday mornings find us piling into the car, driving across town, and spilling out – leaky sippy cup, travel mug of now lukewarm coffee, exploding diaper bag, and all – into the homes of his friends.  In these homes, as in ours, there is a room (at least one) dedicated to the accoutrement of childhood.  Piles upon piles of toys.  An orgy of toys.  Riding toys, climbing toys, small toys, large toys.  Plastic toys in every possible color not found in nature.  A Toys “R” Us gone supernova in a basement.

Sometimes at playgroup, when I’m alone in my head, I watch the toddlers at play and think about my own childhood.  I remember playing in the woods behind my parents’ house.  Shooting baskets in our front driveway.  Riding my bike up and down the short hill of our cul de sac.  Building forts out of sleeping bags and a threadbare La-Z-Boy recliner.  Setting up domino rallies.  Doing puzzles.  Playing Twister, Sorry, and The Game of Life.  Reading.

I don’t have memories of toys.

We had toys, probably more of them than my parents appreciated stepping on barefoot when making their way through our family room, but their specific contours don’t resolve when I look backward.

And I find myself wondering: How did we get to the point where we came to believe that our children need so many things?

I will not pretend that my own house does not suffer from an overabundance of electronic trinkets and colorful trifles.  It does.  I have not held the line against the onslaught of items.  But Big Boy, like most kids I know, is more discerning than we parents.  He spends plenty of time with his beloved Thomas train set, his miniature kitchen, and his Duplo blocks.  But his favorite playthings also include a box with a handle (his “suitcase”), a paper towel roll (his “telescope”), and a Q-tip (“I’m cleaning for you, Mommy”).  Yesterday he occupied himself for twenty minutes “mowing the lawn” with a long-handled shoe horn.

Children make the extraordinary out of the ordinary (with all due credit to Heather and her wonderful title for her even wonder-fuller blog).  But it’s wrong, I think, to expect them to make the extraordinary when the ordinary is preprocessed, prefabricated, and prepackaged.  When the imagination is preprovided.

A reminder to myself this morning, as I look out my window and across the pond, at the first of the season’s Christmas wreaths, its lights twinkling in the still dark of the dawn.

What does our tendency to overindulge our children say about us?  What are we really trying to buy?


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62 responses to “Guest Post: Kristen

  1. Pingback: A Toys R Us Gone Supernova in a Basement « Motherese

  2. Thanks for having me over today, Amber, and thank you for your kind words above.

    I look forward to the discussion today!

  3. (Thank you. You are wonder-full yourself 🙂

    And also, I think about this A LOT. I love simple. And I’m not a fan of loads and loads of plastic noise-making toys. Even when I try to prevent it though, here they come via Christmas gifts and birthdays, from Grama and Grampa and Aunts and Uncles with love. Who can begrudge that?

    I’m not tooting my horn, but the hubs and I rarely buy our boys toys. Even for Christmas or birthdays. We get one thing that will really light their fire and leave the rest to the relatives. Then we make a trip with “old” toys to Goodwill…often. What they really want is us, our time, doing our one on one dates and things out of the ordinary.

    Do you know what I’ve noticed? I only pick up a little extra something, a toy, while shopping at Target or wherever, when I’m feeling guilty. When I just want that moment of seeing excitement that I put there on their little faces. When I’ve been more impatient or less present, I want to fix it with stuff sometimes. Sad, but true.

    • Yes on all fronts!

      Husband and I almost never buy stuff for our little guys, but, when I do, it is almost always attached to guilty feelings I have about something else going on in our lives. Not good.

      My boys are the only grandkids on either side of the family so they are the recipients of lots of gifts from adoring family members. Now that we seem to be exploding at the seams, perhaps it’s time to make the first Goodwill round-up.

  4. Yes, I also grew up in the age of imagination where we had to build our own Barbie furniture and mansion etc… I’m glad I got to grow up climbing trees and exploring creeks. Living in the city, my kids haven’t gotten as much of that except on weekends at the grandparents, but at least they got the experience it.

    • We live in the suburbs so my boys will have the chance for lots of outdoor play. In our neighborhood, the kids actually do play outside a fair amount – biking and chasing after pet dogs. I’m glad that our little cul de sac, at least, feels like a throwback to my own childhood.

    • Boy, could I build a Barbie penthouse back in the day! Hours (and hours) of fun. =>

    • Suzicate, I loved climbing trees and making forts outside when I was little. It is something I want my children to love as well, hopefully when we buy a house we can have the large yard I am envisioning.

  5. I’ve seen a basement just like that (not mine) and it makes me wonder if I’m depriving my own child until I see her completely content with my keys, a teaspoon and the pet’s food bowls, and the world she has created in her imagination where those things are indispensable. That warms my heart.

    Like you, Kristen, I don’t remember many toys growing up, but I do remember playing with many of my parent’s kitchen utensils and blankets, etc. As an only child, my imagination was key to the “social circle” that accompanied me when no one else was around. It was wonderful, and I hope that my little girl will take comfort and run wild in that world, built in the little crevices of our mind, as well.

    • From your posts and comments, Justine, it sounds like your daughter has a very special relationship with the pet’s food bowl. 🙂

      I love what you have to say here about the opportunities for enriching their imaginations our kids get when we don’t bombard them with toys that do all the thinking for them.

  6. I believe our tendency to overindulge our children is simply evidence that we want the best for them. And although ‘the best’ is often anything but physical items, toys, we want them to be happy and have fun and learn. And to a certain extent, toys can provide and encourage these: fun and learning. Having this said, you are correct that the things that usually give us the greatest joy in life, as children and as adults, are not items. They are experiences, people.

    And there is also this parental desire to satisfy hunger, pacify yearning. The pull here is that while I never want my children to go without, I can honestly say most of the good in who I am today is because of what I had to go without and work for growing up.

    Food for thought!

    • Hi Celeste – You make such an important point here: I have never encountered a parent who gives their kids lots of stuff for any reason other than that they believe it makes their kids happy. And it’s certainly hard to find fault with that.

      I had a very fortunate childhood, but my brothers and I weren’t spoiled with things (one could argue we were spoiled with attention or affection). Like you, I think the experience of working for the things I wanted was a formative one.

    • Celeste, I agree with you. I know that in our current situation many people would think our kids are going without–yet we are all very happy. We play outside, go on many walks, and enjoy the toys we do have. Like you said, people really derive the most joy from experiences.

  7. Yes, we suffer from Too Much Stuff. When I was pregnant, expecting a child and a remodeling/rebuilding project, I resisted a lot of the “must-have” baby gear. Some of it I later bought (or, better, borrowed), but much of it I really didn’t miss. But the toys – Oh, the toys. I love good toys, and I love my son’s delight at them, but it’s so easy to have too many – and delight can be so fleeting and fickle. We limit gifts on holidays and birthdays, and we always look into our childhood toy chests (mine is particularly well-stocked preserved) and through our childhood bookshelves before buying. We also rotate toys, putting many out of sight and reach on a regular basis, so that they feel continually “new” to Jack and less like clutter to us.
    Ultimately, my saving grace in this respect is my husband, who is skeptical of accumulation in general.

    • Your comment made me wonder about the relativity inherent in all of this. For instance, I wonder if your Too Much is my Not Enough. I suppose I should have stated upfront here that I am judging myself and my own willingness to let more and more stuff creep into my house.

      I like your idea of rotating items in and out. I did that with my older son before my younger was born; I think it’s time to try it again.

      • Honestly, my stuff contributes to the Too Much problem more than Jack’s does. But, as you emphasize, children can be so imaginative with “everybody” stuff (loved your Q-tip and box with handle examples) that they don’t always need the kid stuff that interests us parents! I love toys, and I remember loving toys as a child. As always, I want to find the happy medium – good toys, fun toys, but not so many as to oversaturate our family fun market – or outsource it all!

  8. A very thoughtful post.

    Some of the indulgence is wanting our kids to have what we didn’t. Some of it is keeping up with the Joneses. Some – buying ourselves a small measure of “down time” in an age where we seem to have convinced ourselves that we have to entertain our kids nonstop – or – that they have to be entertained in some way.

    Indeed, a child will use his or her imagination with almost nothing at all. Pots and pans. Sticks and grass while enjoying a spring day. Aren’t some of our best memories as children the worlds we created in our mind, and the times we shared with friends?

    • Not to mention the times shared with imaginary friends! 🙂

      Mine was named Mary and, for some reason, she had red eyes.

    • In modern child development lit, experts are encouraging parents to help their kids explore their own imaginations. They also support the idea of less is more. It really isn’t the toys that matter, it is the experiences you have with your children. Like you mentioned in a previous post of yours–quality is much better than quantity.

  9. Kristen, I think this might be one of my favourite posts of yours to date, probably because I’m struggling with how to manage the onslaught of toys in my own home. I did a small, routine purge just yesterday of all the little random bits of toys that no longer connect to others (pieces that are broken, etc.), but I’m keen to do a much larger purge and put the breaks on the mountain of largely unused stuff. I asked guests to my son’s first birthday this year to not bring gifts, and if they must, only books. I was not successful. Everyone took it upon themselves to bring more unwanted stuff and then to chastise me when I insisted we would have preferred not. No wonder the need to own stuff is so prevalent in our society, and only a couple of months later he’s already bored of said stuff.

    I’m really struck by your statement “when the imagination is pre-provided.” That was powerful enough to put a little kick back into my desire to purge and go back to the basics.

    • I am seeing the “no presents please” on more and more party invitations these days. But it occurs to me that I sometimes bring a present anyway. What a hypocrite!

      My latest go-to gift for kids is a subscription to a magazine. My toddler loves getting mail and really enjoys the magazines he receives, which tend to have really high quality stories, art, and games.

    • Christine, like you I encourage relatives and friends to give our kids books over toys. Books are items that we can never have enough of over here.

  10. Kristen, I love this post. You so accurately described a typical childhood of someone from our generation and the contemporary craziness of play dates. From time-to-time I notice that we get a little too plugged into our electronic devices at home. That’s when I declare a no TV / Xbox / Facebook week. I get the usual eye rolls but as a result we spend more time together as a family indoors and out.

    • Isn’t it interesting how this dilemma shifts slightly as our kids get older? My toddler already asks for more “shows” and he’s only 2. I suppose the trick in all of this is to be able to say “no” to our kids when it’s easier to always say “yes.”

  11. I had a friend give my son a box for his first birthday. just a box. and he loved it! I also recently read somewhere about someone giving a box of kleenex for first birthdays and that is usually one of their favorite presents…

    • As the mom of an 11-month old, I can attest to the fascination of these little guys with boxes, especially ones with tissues sticking out of the top!

      Thanks for your comment, Michelle!

  12. Kristen, you really started a wonderful discussion over here! Thank you!

    I’m sure this will not surprise you, but Ben and I have bought a handful of toys for our kids. All the toys they have accumulated have come from grandparents and aunts and uncles. That doesn’t mean we have a lot, but in our little apartment it feels like a huge amount. As a sylvanstyle mentioned, we keep half of the toys out and the other half in storage. Rotating them does have a sort of magical flair.

    I am not against buying toys. Just the other day, in fact, I bought a few. The items I bought, though, were intended to be educational. That doesn’t mean they aren’t amusing, but they help Emily with her developing her fine and gross motor skills, with naming colors, and learning how to categorize. It may seem I bought a great amount of toys, but I only invested in a handful of items–a ball and 5 little matchbox cars. Interestingly enough, we have all had a great deal of fun while playing with these.

    This isn’t to say that I disagree with you. I feel that overindulging is a plague, a plague that doesn’t end with just toys. I guess it is a way for us to physically show we love our children.

    • I smiled at your comment about all of you enjoying playing with the ball and the matchbox cars.

      I am so into Legos right now and am really glad that Tiny Baby is big enough to start showing interest in them too (and not threatening to eat them as he did for many months!).

      There must be something innately good about our kids seeing us enjoying playing with their toys, right? 🙂

  13. Such a great topic for a post, Kristen. We don’t have accumulations of toys yet, but we know the feeling of a room that acts as a giant walk-in closet for STUFF. We’re doing our best to whittle it down — reselling unneeded books on Amazon and/or giving them to the local book-share center, donating clothes to Goodwill, etc., etc., etc. Because we know there’s already too much in our overflow room to accommodate the trappings that a new life will invite.

    We’re hoping to direct the future grandparents of our children in their gift-giving so that the toys we know they can’t wait to buy will be the sort that stimulate exactly the kind of imaginative fun Big Boy was having with his “lawnmower,” “telescope,” and “suitcase.” It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth cultivating the creativity, I think.

    • We live in a new house and, until reading your comment, it never occurred to me why all of our closets are so big: people have so much stuff nowadays that they need bigger closets to contain it all!

  14. This is one of the issues that I am constantly struggling with. I really try not to buy toys for my son outside of birthday and Christmas, and I try to make those gifts things that are well-made and will grow with him. However, that doesn’t stop the grandparents from buying every piece of battery operated plastic on the market. It also doesn’t stop the onslaught of gifts from other sources. This past Christmas, our group of friends decided to hold a holiday potluck, and somewhere along the way in the planning it was decided that there would be a Secret Santa gift exchange for the children. And then there are the birthday parties- I would love to ask that guests at my son’s birthday party bring only a book to swap, so that everyone goes home with a book and there are no birthday gifts, but gift giving seems so entrenched among my friends and I just don’t have it in me to question the status quo there. When my son is a little older, I plan to involve him in my periodic toy purges and bring him with me when I donate the toys to Goodwill, in the hope that it will be a good lesson in sharing with those less fortunate.

    • It really is a matter of bucking the status quo, isn’t it, Jamie? I feel the same way: I know my kids don’t need any more stuff, but I don’t speak up in the planning stages of these holiday grab bags. So I become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

      Too bad we didn’t all live in the same neighborhood so we could unite in resisting the onslaught of toys!

  15. Eva

    Ha! I laughed about your little one “mowing the lawn.” They’re so clever, aren’t they?

    I agree – less is more. Simple is better. I’m not a parent, but I see this in my own life. Too many kitchen gadgets drive me crazy! My kitchen drawers get overfilled and messy, and most gadgets are used so rarely I forget about them.

    • Absolutely! I actually thought about all of the ridiculous items I registered for when we got married, many of which are now languishing in storage.

      The tendency to overindulge in stuff is certainly not limited to our kids.

  16. Insightful post Kristen. I enjoy your writing and thoughts.

    I have reached the same conclusions involving gifts with our kids. Give them a rock and let them skip it on water–it trumps anything that we can buy them.

  17. unabridgedgirl

    I remember playing “night games” with all the neighborhood kids. When I recommended this, once, to the kids I used to nanny? I got the eye roll. I miss those days!

  18. I’ve thought about this recently as Spring Cleaning has taken hold of my mind. I want to rid of all the excess. I want to push it all away from me. And so my goal is to finally put the finishing touches on our basement, take every toy in the house outside, and then pick and choose as we bring them in one by one and put them in the new, sparkly basement.

    Wish me luck.
    But…unfortunately, first step is all about new flooring. UGH!

  19. My house was over run with toys far too long ago to remember. At least twice a year we try to do a round up of unused items to give away.

  20. We recently took a 3 day family spring break trip to the desert and brought only 1) Legos 2) Paper and crayons.
    We were outside as much as possible, but when inside, those 2 items were enough for my two children. Granted, it was novel being somewhere new, but I loved how without much to choose from, my children relied on their imaginations and their friendship to entertain them.
    I think the way many of us parents hearken back to our unstructured, outdoor-focused childhoods, is significant. I am amazed at how my kids can be enthralled with sand, water and rocks for hours.
    I love that your son “mowed the lawn” with a shoe horn; I think he’s onto something.

  21. We try to fight the good fight when it comes to toy clutter. What really helps is our no-battery rule. Of course, battery-operated stuff still slips in from friends and family, but once the battery conks out, we don’t replace it (except in a few rare instances like this beloved firetruck of my son’s that I hear in my sleep). We still have voluminous amounts of toys, which we regularly purge and rotate (and, OK, re-gift), but the “quiet” toys lead to more imaginative play. At least that’s what I tell myself! =>

    • A no-battery rule!? That’s brilliant! So simple, yet so effective toward reducing the cacophony – not to mention the great environmental effect of cutting out unnecessary batteries.

      I need to tell Husband this idea right away. His innovation was Scotch tape over the speakers on battery-operated toys – a good one, but a definite second fiddle to the no-battery rule!

      Thanks, Stacia!

  22. Hello Amber and Kristen,

    I thought about this long and hard when I was pregnant. My son is the only grandchild on both sides of the family. I knew there was a possibility that our house would be turned into a mini Toys R Us so husband and I made up a rule about gifts: only on b-days and Christmas. The worst offenders have been the grandparents but the aunts and uncles have been great. Friends are exempt from this rule but hasn’t been a problem.

    Having said this, we go through periods when there are more toys at home than I can tolerate. Husband, thankfully, is sneaky with those Goodwill trips.

    Great post.

    • Hi Belinda – I would love to know how you conveyed the no gift rule to your family. Husband and I have been talking about doing something like this, but the ship may have sailed on this one for us…

  23. When I was a kid my favorite toy was my grandmother’s box of twine, empty thread spools, rubber-bands and the like with which we would “invent” things.

    In my earlier stage parenting days I came to see the influx of toys as akin to the shells, seaweed and trash one finds along the beach every morning. You can clean it up, but the next day the tide will bring more stuff.

    I do agree that more consciousness around this is a good plan, especially as many of those toys end up as part of those enormous floating islands of trash out in the middle of the ocean.

    BTW, love the image of cleaning with a Q-tip 🙂

  24. AMEN.

    Kids have way too much stuff (and sometimes I fall into that trap wanting a ‘rec room’ or ‘play room’ like all my friends have). But we don’t have one, because we don’t have too many toys…by choice and by necessity. When you have a small home, you make choices, and sometimes they save you, truly. I’ll take kids playing outside any day!

  25. What a wonderful post. I am guilty in the past of thinking my son needs this toy, that toy. Now I look around his room and realize he doesn’t play with hardly any of these toys. He likes to play with rocks, belts, strings, all manner of random things he finds. I should let his imagination doing the playing, not all of these store bought toys. His favorite gift at Christmas this year was a mini soccer ball. Just a simple ball. I have definitely adjusted my thinking on toys – reduce and simplify.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Kristin. (Great name, by the way.) 🙂

      “Reduce and simplify” sounds like a perfect strategy for my life in general these days. Thanks for a mantra to try out!

  26. I have so many toys, it isn’t even funny. I not only have to cover multiple age ranges, and 6 birthdays a year, but also differing interests and enough toys for several children to share.

    And yet most of my kids have never been big toy players, they’d rather color or build. I did a major purge last year and cut it down by half leaving mostly the building toys.

    • Whenever I’m about to purge my toddler’s things, I feel like I shouldn’t bother because my baby might be interested in them in a few months. I can’t imagine how much more complicated that particular equation must be with three times as many personalities involved!

  27. Pingback: To Play’s the Thing « Motherese