I don't know what I was thinking when I bore two children between the end of November and the middle of December. In a three week period this year, we had Simon's third birthday, 8 nights of wretched excess, and Isaiah's first birthday. My kids got, umm, many, many presents. Far too many.
Actually, I do know why I have two children in such a short period - birthin' by the agricultural calendar. We have our babies at the most convenient time of year, when the garden is done and the next one not yet started, after the CSA deliveries, the canning and preserving, and garden clean up are finished, but before seed-starting, the arrival of chicks and poults, etc...
We have some strange rules about presents, nearly all of which we've violated now and then, but which keep the insanity from getting too intolerable.
1. Nothing that sings, dances, has no volume control or otherwise drives Mommy and Daddy up the wall.
2. Nothing that can only be played with one way - if it has "directive" qualities, it goes to the synagogue yard sale, particularly if it gives you verbal instructions on how to play with it. The sole exceptions to this rule are board games.
3. No batteries - or nothing that can't be played with without them. Many battery operated basic toys (like our otherwise beloved Fisher-Price farm, which sings and makes noises when you put the animals in the "right" place - grrr!) work just fine without batteries. I make exceptions for a few things - we have some musical toys that use batteries, but generally, we're opposed.
4. Anything that says educational, but means "sings the alphabet really loudly while otherwise doing a lot of stupid crap."
5. Natural materials whenever possible. Partly to reduce the appalling quantity of brightly colored plastic in my house (there was a time when I thought about thinks like aesthetics - ie, before I had children), partly to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals and non-renewable garbage, but mostly, because real materials feel nicer. So wood, wool, metal, silk, etc...
6. Mostly no tv/movie tie ins. We have always excepted Sesame Street from this rule - DH has a cookie monster thing. I have come to tolerate a certain amount of Disney Winnie the Pooh crap, since Simon is Pooh obsessed (we're reading _The House at Pooh Corner_ with both boys right now) and it is disturbingly hard to find Shepherd Pooh related toys. We own Thomas trains, but my kids have never seen Thomas, and don't know that it is a tie in. We own a lot of Bob the builder trucks, but since they are primarily trucks, not characters, I tolerate them. I suspect I'll soften further on this subject at some point, but I'm trying to hold a line - no Disney toys, no Halloween character costumes, no Blue's Clues flashlights.
7. No violent toys. This doesn't mean what you probably think it does. The issue is not guns, which so far hasn't come up. For me, the issue is *superheroes* - our neighbor's sons are allowed to watch anything they want, and their three and five year olds are Batman obsessed. All they want to do is play Batman - which pretty much involves kicking and hitting my kids. That's not to say my kids are incapable of violence (hardly), but their kinds of play rarely involve karate kicks...yet. So we're holding the line hard against superheroes. We love our neighbors - this is the only complaint I've ever had about them - but I wanted to cry when I found out that my 2 year old knew who spiderman was already.
For the record, I actually am not opposed to all toy guns. I think trying to make water pistols look like anything other than guns is stupid, and I don't necessarily think that the wooden toy flintlock I had as a girl made me any more violent than I am anyhow. But I suspect most contemporary toy guns violate at least one of the above rules. I'm sure we'll have our own little "Christmas (Chanukah?) Story" moment with guns sooner or later, and again, as long as they are made of wood or wool, have no batteries, make no noise and you can do more than one things with them, they can have as many guns as they want.
8. No toys that Mommy and Daddy deem stupid, gross, unappealing, inappropriate or worthless. This is the rule under which all others are subsumed. No playdough MacDonalds, no Mexican jumping beans on racetracks, no green slime in a tube, no books with farting and vomiting, no pointless commercial tie ins, no hideous clown face puzzles, no toys that indicate on the boxes they are only for girls (I still have not been able to find a tea set for my kids that has children of both genders on the box), no throw-away crap meant to be played with for two minutes and sent to the landfill.
We get a disturbing number of these toys (with three kids and multiple holidays, we simply get a disturbing number of toys), and they are returned, regifted or donated. My kids don't seem to mind (yet) that Mommy scoops up some of their toys and says, "these are for tzedakah" after the kind people who gave them depart. I'm hoping if I keep doing it, it will get to be a routine.
Despite all of this, our house looks like a giant playroom, and while it troubles me some (I am not a fan of excess), I'm happy that there is a lot of good stuff - I'm not a believer in artificial shortages. Just in the last few weeks, my children have received:
1. Woolen dolls (in Simon and Isaiah's case) and a woolen stuffed horse with leather saddle (for Eli). They are beautiful, warm and soft.
2. A table and a train set. This might actually have been for Eric, who is at least as into it as the kids.
3. Many, many, many beautiful children's books.
4. A new top - we break one from overuse every couple of years.
5. A wooden abacus for math games.
6. A puppet theater
7. Assorted trucks for my truck obsessed 1 year old.
8. Assorted stuffed animals for my animal obsessed three year old.
9. A wooden xylophone for my music obsessed 4 1/2 year old.
10. An enormous set of wooden architectural blocks.
My kids are so not deprived it isn't funny - in fact, even my rules aren't keeping the toy level respectable. I feel fortunate not only that my children have wonderful toys to play with, but that many of these will outlast my children, and on to the grandchildren I so fervently hope to have.
I hope your holidays are wonderful, fruitful and over soon!