Let's all agree that baby's first Christmas was completely stupid and we bought too much shit. And if it wasn't you, it was the grandparents, aunts/uncles or…you know, you. Because we all do it. Bursting with the momentousness of firsts, we wax lyrical about the wonder of viewing Christmas through the eyes of a child once again and in the end, baby eats the wrapping paper then falls asleep, and you're left trying to find a home for 1000 new toys that you rationalised buying because they were "so adorable!" " so educational!" or "such a bargain!"
Luca's first Christmas ended with presents left unwrapped under the tree for the simple fact that we ran out of time to open them all. And we were surprised to learn how many of them were not necessarily age appropriate. In fact, a book about foxes inscribed "To our Luca Boo, Christmas 2007" has only just been added to bedtime story rotation now. Because apparently, four-month-olds don't go for non-fiction so much – or maybe it's that they prefer the pictures to be of fox and bunny making friends, not fox tearing bunny's larynx out.
What can I say? First time parents; we had so much to learn. Not least of which was not inscribing things with "Luca Boo"…
I believed we had learned our lesson. And with three kids, it's no longer possible to buy so much crap, even if we wanted to. Financially prohibitive, yes, but also, all parents know toys multiply and I am jealously guarding any clear floor space we have left.
So it was time to get creative. To think about presents that were going to be practical AND fun. And by that I mean, keep the kids so intensely occupied as to render interaction with them unnecessary.
Recently, we invested in some toys oft lauded as stalwarts in the kid realm, tried and true champions of childhood. And now, I want to share my take on these perennial faves and why I believe we've been sold a lie.
1. The Sandpit
What kid doesn't love a sandpit? Excellent tactile play that has the added bonus of taking place in the backyard and not directly under your feet in the kitchen (which is apparently the ONLY fun place for my sons to play cars). Digging and building and throwing it directly into a sibling's face – good, outdoorsy fun!
But the thing about sand is that it's microscopically small and sticks to EVERYTHING. So unless you set up a system whereby child is fire-hosed clean at the back door directly post-sandpit, that sand is coming into your house. And it's then you'll realise it's just like living in a beach shack for the summer – without benefit of the actual beach.
Also – cat owners; BEWARE. Apparently sand feels just like kitty litter.
Verdict: a sandy hell.
*Incidently, I have a brand new in its box sandpit for sale on Ebay. Hahaha. I'm not kidding.
The Danes sure know how to innovate and 50 years after the first two bricks were snapped together, Lego is still going strong. A fine motor workout that requires imagination and problem solving in equal measure, Lego is a rite of passage, an institution of childhood.
It also has the distinction of being the smallest and most excruciating thing a human foot could ever step on.
And there's the rub – all the pieces, the tiny, tiny agony-inducing pieces. Just like sand, they get into everything. And worse still for my OCD self, losing a single, miniscule piece can fuck with the entire construction. And my day.
Also, parents of crawling infants: BEWARE. Choking anxiety up the yin yang.
Verdict: Lego will take over your entire home – no surface will be spared.
There is nothing sadder than the kid on the unpushed swing…
Who amongst us has not enjoyed the gay abandon of the humble swing, weightless bodies flying through space, wind streaming through hair? It's kick up your heels joy mixed with metronome-zen motion.
But this unmitigated delight is reserved for the person ON the swing. And you, dear parent, are not that person. No, you are the person who must push and push and push – you are the repetitive motion to your child's zen. And to be speak plainly, it sucks balls.
My Ziggy becomes almost comatose on the swing, his catatonic state broken only by the banshee shriek he emits should I attempt to bring an end to the swinging.
Luca likes to be pushed higher and higher but point blank refuses to use his own legs to assist in the process. Refuses.
And though Brendon taunts me mercilessly about it, I stand by my assertion that pushing two kids on the swing at once gives me vertigo. Or something. I don't know, I just get really dizzy and have to lie down. It's real, I tell you. Thinking about it now is making me anxious. Fuck.
Verdict: Swingsets will push you to your limits.
4. Board Bored Games
If you remember your own childhood, you will probably remember playing board games with your family. I can't speak for your family but I can tell you that my family never got through a game of Monopoly without somebody crying.
So why I thought buying Trouble for Luca would be a good idea, I can not truly say. The name should have sounded alarm bells. But I was genuinely looking forward to reaching this milestone, sitting around the kitchen table playing a good, old-fashioned roll the dice, move your piece board game with the boys.
Within minutes of our first game beginning, Luca became inconsolable because he hadn't rolled a six and Ziggy had lost one of his game pieces under the fridge. The next 20 minutes were spent letting Ziggy take my turn as well as his own and turning a blind eye to Luca's blatant cheating because I just needed someone, anyone, to win.
The times someone wasn't fighting or crying? You roll the dice, you move your piece. Boring.as.tits.
Family bonding over board games still remains a dream I hope to realise some day. Maybe we're just not ready.
Verdict: Life is not a Milton Bradley commercial.
I trust this handy guide will help you to avoid rookie mistakes.
But if you're still set on buying Lego, and I can sense that you are, I just discovered a nifty storage solution.
The boys both got Lego for Christmas and I've been spreading out a towel each for them to play on so they don't lose bits. It wasn't ideal. And I was terrified of Harlow choking on an adorable little steering wheel or Lego man's cap.
So I hit up Google and found Brikbag. I emailed them with a request to check out their product. Turns out they're a small business started in Melbourne. You know how I love to support a small Aussie biz.
There are a couple of similar products on the market but I liked Brikbag best because it just looked better than the others. Made from pre-shrunk denim, it has a 1.5m diameter which makes it the biggest play mat of its kind, too. Luca and Zig can both sit and play with plenty of room.
And even Harlow, if she so fancies…
We don't have a lot of Lego (yet). But if you have a shitload and are looking for a storage solution, Brikbag has a drawstring function that means you can close up the bag with all the blocks inside.
But my favourite thing about Brikbag was how it concentrates play in one single area. This is especially important with Lego which is so bit-sy and chokey. Where usually the boys run all over the house playing in every single room at the same time (how this is possible, I can't say, but it happens!), the mat gave them a focus and they sat down and made stuff for ages. It was actually incredibly cool. And then, once they were done, all the pieces were still on the mat which I pulled up into a bag. Voila. Dishes are done, man!
Now I want you to win one!
In fact, the lovelies at Brikbag told me I can give away two. So I have two Brikbags to give away.
To enter, leave a comment below telling me about a toy you either love or one you really, really hate. I'll be choosing my favourite response and the good people at Brikbag will be choosing theirs.
The competition will run until midnight (AEDST) Friday 1st February. Winners will be announced on the blog on Monday 4th February.
This is not a game of chance. Winners will be chosen based on the creativeness of their responses.
Giveaway open within Australia only.
Disclaimer: After contacting the company myself, I was supplied with one Brikbag for the purpose of review. It was understood that I would only write about the product if I genuinely loved it.
Congratulations to Bilby and Mummalove – you have each won a Brikbag! Shoot me an email thelittlemumma[at]gmail[dot]com with your mailing details and your colour preference (red or green trim) and I'll pass on your deets to the good people at Brikbag.