Saturday, October 9, 2010

Toys Coming out the Wazoo

I remember reading a statistic when my first child was a newborn that said the average American kid gets over 100 new toys a year. I remember being appalled and the sheer vulgarity of the image: pristine plastic dolls and cars lining every surface of a child's room. I know our culture was materialistic, but I was darn-sure MY kids were not going to be.

Now that I am a parent of a school-age kid and a preschooler, I see the statistic a bit differently. I think it may actually be a little on the low side for my kids. You see, what you don't realize as a non-parent or new parent is how these toys come into your possession. It is not as if you are going to Toys R Us every weekend and buying some shiny new plastic crap that little Bobby just can't live without. Most of it gets into your house without you even knowing it. Then you look around and see the floor strewn with flower erasers and Lego men and bouncy balls and wonder what the heck happened.

It starts out subtly. Your parents bring a gift when they come to visit. Sometimes your friends do, too. It is out of love and genuine interest in your child, so of course it a welcome gift. Sometimes, when you go to a store, you buy them a little something so that the shopping trip goes more smoothly. They are entertained, and you get a whine-free trip through the market. At their birthday parties, of course, they get gifts from each guest, plus ones from their families. Great!

Then you have all the other stuff.

The toy vending machines cleverly placed at the front of the restaurants, pet stores, and grocery stores you go to. You can only say "maybe next time" so many times before you actually have to let them buy something.

When your child goes to a birthday party (like, every FREAKIN' weekend!!!), there is the little party favor bag, which may contain two or three toys.

At school they get toys from friends and prizes from teachers. A girl on my daughter's bus last year gave her a little toy almost every day.

They find stuff on the playground and take it home.

I have had complete strangers meet my kids and five seconds later produce a toy from their pocket or house.

Or they go on a playdate and like a certain toy so much the other parents say they can keep it. (Try saying no to your kid after that!)

It seems like everywhere we go there are little things for the kids to keep. One of my friends' daughter is now so used to this she will actually ask, "What do you have for me?" when she meets someone.

All this "stuff", as you can imagine, really piles up. I feel like we're up to our eyebrows in toys nobody actually wants or needs. But then, throwing any of it away is a heinous crime. The kids see the pea-sized ball of play-dough in the garbage and shout, "Who put this in here? I NEED this!"

All toy culling must therefore be done under cover of darkness, preferably less than an hour before the garbage truck comes. One can also donate things to charity, which I do regularly. I also have the rule about not buying any new toys unless the kids give something else away. It actually works. That is, until they go back to school, a playground, or another birthday party.