The Grinch List
I have more children than money. Their wants are grand, but their honest needs are few. It’s the annual Christmas conundrum; get the kids something they will appreciate, use, and enjoy without breaking the bank or the overflowing toy cupboard. My boys are still young, but there are a bunch of them now, so I’m beginning to see trends. If you’re in a crunch like me, maybe these will help. Honestly, a few of these probably will be under the tree at our house this year.
Bubble wrap. This has got to be near the top of any list. Instant gratification, the joy of destruction, minimal mess to clean afterward. This is always a fought-over commodity in our house, usually of greater interest than the object it briefly protected within its voluptuous folds.
Ice. This one never ceases to amaze me. An ice cube will keep my kids busy for, well, minutes at least. I just found Buzz Lightyear suspended, not unlike Han Solo in carbonite, in a block of it in my freezer. When I showed the kids their forgotten prisoner, they delightedly spent the next 20 minutes chopping him free with a butter knife and distributing the cold pieces amongst each other like candy. Icicles in winter, a chunk of it in a bowl in the summer, it’s even been known to float in the bathtub for a few minutes of terrorizing siblings, ice can’t be beat for price or cleanability. A clear favorite. Hehe.
Ice. Ice, baby.
Toilet paper tubes. What’s better than this? Having more than one, maybe. A dozen salvaged from the recycling box will set my crew’s creative juices flowing. Binoculars, telescopes, swords, matchbox car tunnels, puppets… And that’s just with the empty ones. Ask any 18 month old what the most fun room of the house is, and he probably won’t tell you. But actions speak louder than words. In one corner, the flushable porcelain bowl beckons, simply reaching for the plunger sends mom into spasms which prove how precious that jewel must be, lots of sprayable bottles hide under the sink, and finally there’s that ultimate marvel of engineering enticingly suspended almost within reach – the toilet paper roll. You don’t have to be potty trained to appreciate toilet paper. A “double roll” can completely bury a persistent toddler if he works hard enough. Or be used to measure the length of the house. Or sop up a puddle (how did that get there, anyway?). Or be a pillow. Or blanket. Or clothing. Endless possibilities.
Boxes. Akin to the tubes mentioned above, boxes can morph into dozens of props. Refrigerator or washing machine boxes are of course just plain awesome. But if mom doesn’t seem to want an elephant in the room, even a tissue box can be something. They have been garages, monster feet (with or without tissues removed), treasure boxes, pet bug homes (even more rewarding if mom doesn’t know when she reaches in, expecting an innocuous tissue), tool chests, building blocks if you save enough, even bowls for cereal (hopefully without milk).
Magnets. These are so much more than simply tools to hold artwork on the fridge. In the first place, they can also hold things on the dishwasher, stove, washing machine, file cabinet, car, or assorted power tools left within reach. A small one on either side of the ear is a quick and painless earring. Taped onto matchbox cars, they are can drive up refrigerators. A collection of them on a cookie sheet at the table, especially with a paper that has spaces to put them to count things, is great clean busywork for a toddler. My two year old uses them during homeschool lessons regularly. They are good fishing “hooks” for homemade indoor fishing trips off the side of the bunk beds (assuming you’re fishing for paper clip-clad fish). There are probably endless uses for more creative people than me. Take that as a challenge.
Pipe cleaners. We don’t have pipes around the house, but we do have cleaners. Wires are useful and great raw material for creating. Cover them in fuzzy bright colors, and they’re suddenly kid attractors. We make glasses, hooks, stick figure animals and people, and Christmas ornaments. Watch the poky end, but other wise these keep my older guys engrossed for whole minutes of independent construction.
Sand/mud. I personally prefer to keep this outside in the sand box, or better yet, at the beach, but my boys are not naturally respecters of such inhibiting boundaries. Unless you’re far, far south of me, this probably wouldn’t be a good Christmas gift (unless you’re a far, far more relaxed and patient mother than I am). With a good vacuum. Obviously castles, moats, and mud pie come to mind, but good ole fashioned sand can also be used for construction sites, small fort building material, ammo when it isn’t snowball season, hands-on science, apparently even a public restroom for the local fauna. Our sand box and adjoining mud pit get a lot of use. Daily.
Flour. This also applies to rice, laundry soap, and anything in the kitchen that would leave a hand print. I think the unconscious reason my two year old likes to “help” me in the kitchen is to utilize another outlet for mess. He loves measuring cups of flour for bread. He giggles with (manly, of course) glee when we pour a new bag of rice into the big container where I keep it. He stirs the muffin batter with determination. He has spent almost half an hour sifting though our homemade laundry mix (and came away from that mess with cleaner hands than before. Not too shabby.) He mixes with sheer abandon. It’s pretty cute. Older kids can often be coerced into kitchen work too, under the guise of messy play. Try it. You’ll like it.
Spray bottles. After they (ok, you) sweep up from the rice and flour, the fun doesn’t have to end. My older kids have caught on to this, and can actually earn a quarter or two if they grab a spray bottle full of white vinegar and start swabbing down windows. But my smaller, less monetarily-driven, guys still do it for free, usually just with water. And if a spray bottle fight breaks out (as it is wont to do), then your floors, walls, and kids will be cleaner too. In theory.
A baby brother. I guess a sister might work too, though I’ve never tried it. My kids have learned that a new little sibling can actually be fun. Ok, not always, granted. And they’re really not cheap playthings. Ok, not at all. But in our house, they come with the territory. So my kids have learned to roll with it. Babies make inappropriate sounds and get away with it, which always sends my kids into paroxysms of laughter. They bubble, drool and spit. Boys find that hilarious. In public, big brothers get to show off baby brothers to doting strangers. Once they get a few months old, babies smile at any brother who gets close enough to focus on. It’s very rewarding. They are often available to snuggle, to keep quiet company, or to draw out the mother hen instinct of a boy growing strong enough not just to destroy but to protect. It’s quite beautiful. Not something a toy from any store can really reveal.
A puppy. Hahahahahahahaha. Ha. No. (Seriously. We’re good.)