To make it easier, I'm going to start with what NOT to buy.
1. Any toy that makes noise. In case you weren't aware, toddlers make a ridiculous amount of noise without any help from Tickle Me Elmo. If you give a toddler a noise-making toy, the following things will occur:
- They will press the damn button repeatedly until you want to gouge out your eardrums with a spoon.
- They will press the damn button repeatedly until the toy breaks or the batteries run out. Once it breaks, the ensuing tantrums over the broken toy and demands to go to the store and buy new batteries will make you want to gouge out your eardrums with a spoon.
2. Toys that have more pieces than the age of the child. Let's say you are at the store and you see the 100 piece block set. You think, "Oooh, awesome, look at all these blocks! My niece/nephew/grandchild is going to love this! And it's only $10!" Step back for a second while I tell you what's going to happen. Child will see all the blocks. Promptly dump them all over the floor, leaving death traps for the parents. Child will pick out ONE block- you know, the Special Block that was at the bottom of the bin and will require the child to dump out all the blocks in search of this Special Block every.single.time.
If you feel compelled to get the gigantic sets, save yourself some money and divvy up the set between all the kids on your shopping list.
3. Toys with small pieces. I have a deep and abiding hatred for toys that come with small pieces. To begin with, I still have one kid that loves to put everything and anything in her mouth. It's not a lot of fun when I have to tell Ella that she can't play with a toy because it's a choking hazard for her sister or another little kid who comes over to play. Furthermore, the little pieces end up getting lost and then we have a meltdown over "I NEED it!" And I have to explain that I would love to give the piece to her. Except there is a high probability that it's lost in the abyss that is the horrible shag carpet in our playroom. Or possibly taking a voyage through her sister's intestines.
4. Toys that involve a high level of parental involvement. Look, I know the ad shows the parent(s) and kids happily playing with this toy that is too advanced for my toddlers to do on their own but is so super cool that they need to play with it all.the.time. But in real life, Dad has a job and Mom has other things to do than constantly reassemble this thing that is too complicated for the toddler to handle. If you like my kids and want them to eat semi-decent meals, please take a pass on the toys that need an adult every time. Unless, again, you would like to keep it at your house.
5. Electronics. Toddlers are destructive and electronics are expensive. And then there's the whole thing that a two year old does not need an iPad. P.S. If you get my toddler an iPad, you can be assured that I am going to commandeer it.
So what, then, would be a good present for a toddler?
1. Your presence. Even though I'm totally awesome, my kids sometimes get bored with me and like to see other people. Spend the money to come see them. I promise you, they will be thrilled and will be talking about your visit for months.
2. A membership to the zoo/museum/aquarium/etc. It's something they can enjoy all year long. My kids are 1 and 2 and have the attention spans of gnats (actually, some days that might be insulting to gnats). A new toy is going to be super cool for a week, tops, whereas the zoo is awesome all the time. In fact, some days I'm pretty sure they only keep me around so I'll drive them to go see George and Bobo and the lizards and the bear.
3. A gigantic box. Boxes are cheap and kids love them. Wrap it up in paper for them to happily destroy and you have one amazing gift.
4. Empty toilet paper/paper towel rolls. These are like crack to my kids. Seriously. Combine some with the empty box and you are golden.
5. A personalized photo book. Ella loves looking through our photo albums and seeing her relatives. She'll sit there and tell me all these stories about the photos, real or imagined (like how there's Mommy holding newborn Ella at swim class. Uhhhh....pretty sure that's the hospital bed but okay.).
6. A donation to a charity. Kids are way more perceptive than we give them credit for. Even though she's not quite three, Ella is starting to understand that there are some people who don't have as much as we do. Sure, she may devise devious little plans where (in her mind) some other kid gets all her toys and then she gets new toys (we're still working on explaining the whole charity concept) but she does understand the basic idea of helping out others.