With credit to both Thomas and my husband for their vitriolic, fervent input.
10. Moon Dough.
Moon Dough is touted as, basically, Play-Doh that never dries out. It comes in about six thousand colors and is also apparently waterproof or something, and the commercials show nothing strangely amiss, so we spring for it one Saturday afternoon.
The reality: What they don’t tell you about Moon Dough is that it’s basically a slightly more solid form of talcum powder. It’s so light it can practically be transmitted by air. It is Styrofoam with slightly more give. And as such, this sh!t will end up in every single g*ddamn nook and cranny of your house, even if the kid was playing with it in the garage. Cleanup will involve putting your house on the market. Also, it doesn’t hold its shape well, because it doesn’t have the heft of Play-Doh; so inevitably anything your kid makes will crumble like table salt and you will be left to forge your way through a late-afternoon tantrum.
Legos are epic. And they are truly fearsome in terms of creative play. There are, however, a couple of drawbacks to Legos. One, the small pieces will forever damage vacuum cleaners, will forever be forgotten until stepped upon by bare feet at 2am, and will forever be lost when you need them.
Two, if you have a linear-thought type of kid like mine, he will complete a massive, 7-14 project of 400 pieces – and then get bored. I had to explain to him that you could make just about anything with Legos, and even then he was looking for instructions. He’s like a little Communist sometimes.
Three, they add the f*ck UP. Right now we have a massive Rubbermaid bin full of nothing but Legos. Which is awesome in theory; however, in practice, it sucks mightily because the one three-prong piece you need is somewhere near the bottom and will never, ever be found.
Additionally, the larger sets will sit around collecting dust, having been cannibalized of their coolest pieces, and will haunt your playroom like castle ghost towns.
8. The Pillow Pet.
Seriously. It’s a stuffed animal with a Velcro strap. Why didn’t I think of this uselessness and make a million?
7. The Pillow Pet’s knockoff, the Happy Napper.
A Pillow Pet that you get to shove mercilessly and cruelly inside out so it fits inside its own skin, which is the habitat for the Pet – a barn for a cow, a house for a dog, an igloo for a penguin. It makes me queasy to watch little kids jam their hands into the poor face of a bear just to get it inside its wee little hollow tree.
6. Hot Wheels Anything.
The cars are great. And we have a million of them. But where they really screw you is in the elaborate racetrack setups, which appeal like f*cking crack to little boys when you watch the commercial. “The race cars LEAP over the canyon and land on the track opposite and then JUMP over the rocks and you get to see who wins!” Well, great. But until you’ve sat up late at night with a g*ddamned protractor trying to figure out why your particular track is off juuuuust enough so that the cars never land right, you have never known true pain. Also, if you lose one piece of the track, nothing ever goes back together in any discernible, playable form.
5. The Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine – the redux.
This damn thing is STILL AROUND, if you can believe it. And despite the screaming, traumatized-child warnings in my head, I allowed Thomas to get one from a dollar store or something similar. The results were depressingly still the same – twenty minutes’ worth of agonizing bicep work, producing exactly three shavings of ice. If you really want to make snow cones, just use the blender and put a f*cking Snoopy sticker on it.
4. Any Game Involving More Than Four Pieces.
This includes most of the newer games, with gimmicks and flashlights and a million tiny pieces that are vital to the game. Lose one and you lose the game forever. Puzzles are the same way, and Thomas specifically asked me to add them to this list. You spend twenty minutes looking for one piece, only to eventually realize that it’s missing.
3. Noisy Toys.
This includes any of Elmo’s incarnations, a Transformer that issues commands, and an R2D2 we have. The problem really isn’t the noise itself – I’ve never been too bothered by noise – but what happens when you come downstairs at 3am for a drink of water, wakened by a thunderstorm, and there’s a sudden flash of lightning and boom of thunder and Elmo is illuminated horribly and issues forth a falsetto “ELMO WANTS TO PLAY!”. I really don’t think I’ve ever screamed so loud in my life.
2. Anything Valuable or Described as “Collectible."
We have a bunch of Schleich castle pieces – this was what Thomas got for his second birthday. A massive castle, and like twenty knights on horseback, and a catapult, and several other pieces. We mostly bought it for us, honestly. The detail work was amazing, the knights were realistically dressed and everything was studiously and artfully done.
Within a fortnight, the knights had taken up residence in the bathtub, under a bed, and warding off bad guys at windowsills, respectively. One of the horses lost most of a head during a particularly trying period of molar development. The castle pieces, while awesome, are enormous and unwieldy and defy any and all attempts at ergonomic storage.
The good part about the toys is that they are astonishingly hardy. Thomas is now nearly six, and the knights are still in heavy rotation, fighting Transformers and robots and Lego men. Their fierce fighting facial expressions have taken on a look of grim, weary resignation.
1. Thomas the Tank Engine.
Anything and everything about Thomas the Tank Engine toy-wise is evil incarnate. I am utterly convinced. The show was wonderful – narrated by George Carlin and Alec Baldwin, no less! – but the toys can bite my ass. Children crave them desperately – mine in particular, because he shares a name with the eponymous Thomas – and these things are so g*ddamned expensive you can forget about ever sending the child to college.
You want a Thomas engine for your wooden railway pieces? $12.99. The damn thing is less than three inches long. A Percy engine? $10.99. The most modest track set this company makes is a $40.00 no-frills figure-eight track. It is the world’s biggest racket. Thankfully, you can make do with the more affordable Melissa and Doug tracks; but you have to get the Thomas engines, because believe me, your kid will know the difference and will inform you via tantrums, screams, and weepy, unintelligible sobfests that he is going to end up in a f*cking clock tower because you bought a fake Gordon engine.
In short, my parents were right. We really did all like the boxes better anyway.