Somewhere there’s a special store where my relatives go to buy really loud toys. Maybe they don’t know how many decibels three children can produce – even without a battery-operated karaoke machine – or maybe they just hate me.
For my children though, the highlight of the holiday season is the day the UPS truck delivers a package from those relatives (whom I picture cackling with fiendish delight as they plot the demise of my sanity). While my kids are delirious with anticipation, I already know what’s inside the box. Along with something like a salad shooter for me and an electric ice scraper for my husband, there will be large, loud, battery-operated toys for the kids. Toys that promise “realistic battle sounds,” “easy assembly” and “fun for the whole family!” Toys that any parents with common sense and functioning eardrums would never buy.
Batteries will not be included nor will any receipts or marks identifying point of origin. We will not be able to return or exchange these gifts. We will own them and my children will demand that I remove the batteries from every flashlight and smoke detector in the house to make the toys work. Now!
Maybe I should worry that the relatives who sent these gifts are exhibiting passive aggressive behavior or maybe it’s simply that they have been to my house and know that in order for a toy to make itself heard above the roar of our everyday life it has to pack as many decibels as a real grenade launcher or wail like a neglected infant until I develop post-traumatic stress syndrome and my milk lets down.
It wasn’t always like this. For a few years, I was successful in sheltering my children – and my mental health – from the loud reality of battery-operated toys. I told them that the little door on the bottom of the Rescue Heroes Headquarters was a bank and that the tiny compartment on the back of Baby Miracle Moves was to hold Cheerios®.
In a world without batteries, they were content to push their remote control cars quietly around the living room, to pretend that they were receiving messages on their walkie-talkies, and to tend to baby dolls which, instead of speaking Spanish or demanding fake cereal, just slept.
Sure, I felt a little guilty, but my motives were noble. I only wanted to preserve the innocence of my children and maintain some semblance of peace and quiet in my home. Call me naive, but I always imagined that my kids would spend their days weaving wildflowers through their hair and staging puppet shows with marionettes they made from acorns and twigs.
In pursuit of that ideal, I not only withheld the double A’s, I told them that the only station on TV was PBS, that rice cakes were cookies and that computer games would burn out their retinas. They believed me. And, although my children never actually made anything out of acorns, I did enjoy a brief period of feeling smug about my superior parenting skills.
Then it all fell apart. They met other kids, went to their houses and came home with tales of wonder. The cookies were more delicious, the TVs got hundreds of stations and the toys could talk, sing and move. Melissa’s Baby Miracle Moves cooed and giggled. Sam’s Rescue Heroes had voice-card technology. When the friends came to play at our house, they politely nibbled the rice cakes and appraised our mute playthings.
“That’s not a bank, you dope,” their friends pointed out. “It’s where the batteries go.”
“Batteries?” A light went on that required no Duracells. My kids glared at me with looks of betrayal.
The jig was up.
Turns out, battery-operated toys have one quality that is pretty appealing. They don’t keep going and going and going. After a few days, the batteries die, the moving parts scatter far under the couch and the toys are silent. So before the box comes this year, I think I’ll be prepared and have extra batteries on hand … for the salad shooter.