I was reading through the Atlanta Parents magazine today and noticed the recent holiday article detailing this year's favorite toys for Christmas. I couldn't help but notice that all the favorites consisted of multiple buttons to make them faster, glitzier and noisier than other toys that have come before. Of course, this is the trend each year as the holidays approach. The manufacturers work diligently to produce a product that will catch the attention of a child and impress upon the parents just how important it is for their child to have THIS one special toy because it is so much better than any other toy on the market.
There was one Christmas that I fell into the "bigger, better, noisier" trap. We had endured a rough holiday season with the loss of my dear father-in-law. When the time to shop rolled around, my husband and I both were in need of a bit of aggressive retail therapy in the form of lavishing our oldest son with the best Christmas he could ever have wanted. (Kira was barely 3 months old at the time.)
We were wandering the aisles of Wal-Mart when we came across the perfect gift.
The Tarantula - a remote control, cross-country vehicle that claimed to roll easily over rocks and hills and yada yada yada.
My husband was instantly in love. He entertained visions of revving the engine as he and Gibson chased the Tarantula all across the yard, hooping and hollering as the monster tackled event he most intimidating piles of dirt.
We had already finished our shopping for Gibson based on the dollar amount that we had determined to spend for his Christmas. There was no need to add to his already appropriately suitable pile. This one thing alone was more than the amount that we had determined we would spend on Gibson, so this would double his Christmas allowance.
We bought it. We just KNEW he would love it. We were craving that one MOMENT when his eyes would light up with the joy and excitement of having received exactly what he didn't even know he wanted until the very moment he unwrapped the box. After all, this is not the type of thing we would ever have agreed to buy for him, so he would never have even asked for this expensive toy.
Christmas came and the moment was just as we had hoped. Gibson was, indeed, quite thrilled and excited with his new remote control vehicle. The rush to purchase the proper batteries came the day after Christmas, as we were unskilled with these things and had no clue that the batteries for this toy would be unattainable at the local Wal-Mart. Luckily, Radio Shack was well stocked.
We managed to assemble the batteries and get the thing running after a day or two. If you've ever purchased a remote control vehicle then you know that those batteries generally need to be charged for a full 24 hours before you can use them. Again, this was something we should have researched before Christmas.
Gibson waited - not so patiently - until we could bring out the Tarantula and embark on a journey that would undoubtedly be filled with the best kind of fun ever.
The battery lasted for about two hours.
Gibson was not finished. He wanted to play more, but the battery now required another 24 hours to charge. There was disappointment and frustration as the battery was removed and placed, once again, on the charger.
(Yes, having an extra battery on hand would have been such an incredibly smart thing to do...)
The next day the scene was repeated. An hour or two after playing hard with his Tarantula, the battery died and had to be recharged.
That was the last time he played with the "perfect toy" that had been under his Christmas tree. He decided that the effort of charging the battery was not worth the amount of fun that would be gained because the time it took to charge the battery was so much longer than the amount of time that the battery would last.
We waited nearly two years before we passed that expensive, perfect gift onto the local thrift store to be bought by some other kid who would probably love it with or without working batteries.
It did not take us two years to learn our lesson.
You may wonder what lesson it is that we have learned. Well, there were many lessons built into that one Christmas.
First, the excitement wears off real quick. The big rush is fun, but after the rush is over the second guessing kicks in. We could have spent that money on far better things. We could have bought him 5 or 10 little things that he would have played with for years instead of one big toy that he quickly lost interest in.
Second, the basic toys are usually better and more loved than the glitzy toys. Things that allow a child to use his imagination or can be used in multiple ways will be more likely to stand the test of time. The classics are considered to be classics for a reason. Lincoln Logs are still popular because children PLAY with them. Play-Doh is still popular because children PLAY with it. Balls are still popular (and recently admitted to the Toy Hall of Fame) because children will always PLAY with balls. It isn't necessary to break the bank on the "latest and greatest" in order for your child to have a magical holiday season filled with toys that will last at least a week or two instead of only a day or two.
Third, setting a budget for Christmas is important. Sticking to that budget is also important. Blowing the budget even once tends to set a precedent for years to come. Children actually remember what they get from year to year. If last year's holiday was BIGGER and BETTER, then this years holiday might be disappointing if the selection and number of toys are not quite as impressive.
Finally, if the toy won't be played with - and you know it won't be played with - go ahead and give it up. Waiting two years will not change the fact that your child is no longer interested. Letting that toy sit and take up valuable space is just torture for yourself. If your child has decided that the toy no longer holds value for him, go ahead and pack it up to be given to charity. Don't drag it around through three different moves in hopes that one day you child will once again decide to charge the batteries and take it out for a spin. Trust me, he won't.