The Best Presents of 2017

Okay, I know it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, so I’m complicit in corporate America’s plot to get Americans buying all the things, all the time, but it came up in my feed, and I’m not going to remember this in three weeks, so you’re getting it now! You’re welcome.

The initial inspiration was this toy, apparently the “It” toy of 2017… drumroll please… a tiger! 

Why does it come with a tiny rubber chicken? I’m so confused.

This is one in a long, proud tradition of toys that kids want so desperately, thinking this, finally, is the perfect toy, the toy that will be your friend, that your friends will marvel over, that you’ll never tire of. There’s a box in my parent’s house full of tamagotchis and furbys, and even an old Chatty Cathy, which was totally the It doll of my mom’s childhood.

All I’m saying is that your little ingrate is going to play with this tiger for two days, and then ignore it forever. You might as well just burn $100 while your offspring laughs maniacally.

Actually, that’s a pretty apt metaphor for parenting in general.

So there I was, wondering how many millions of these tigers are going to be sold, and wondering if there was any way to get a REAL tiger as a birthday present, and how exactly one gift-wraps a tiger, and what our regular cats would think of that, when I came upon this wonder:

My favorite part is how they tried to make it look like he was furiously pedaling

It’s a stationary bike for kids! Let me repeat that: it’s a stationary bike. For children. Please tell me the next product is going to be a miniature Nordic Track with a simulated cross country skiing program.

Okay, so at this point I obviously needed to know what else Amazon thinks I should buy. Luckily, they’ve put together a handy list of the best toys by age group. How thoughtful! And while there are plenty of perfectly respectable ideas, like Legos and dressups, I couldn’t help but notice the gifts that maybe they might have reconsidered.

First up, a duo for the hipster-in-training: Professor Whiskerton Presents Steampunk ABC, and a food truck. 

Okay, I’ve gotta admit, Professor Whiskerton is a fantastic name.

I’m pretty sure they only ship this toy to Austin.

Think about it! What better way to introduce a growing brain to cool subcultures and growing trends! Before you know it, little Semaphore is going to be running her very own pop up Nepalese-Peruvian fusion food truck called Cogs + Gears, while wearing a fantastical top hat.

Or, perhaps you’re raising a sophisticate, one with impeccable taste, so you can humble-brag about how little Gershwin just will not let you stop playing La Traviata, but at least it’s better than when he went through his Carmen phase. So cliche!

I digress. Here are some presents that say, “Sure, I have a kid, but I’m not letting some little detail like having a developing human under my care get in the way of my cocktail parties.”

Her expression says it all.

I think I had a therapist with this couch once.

Of course, you could get a fun, colorful pretend kitchen, the one that your precious moppet would actually pick out, but this one matches your Scandi-Colonial aesthetic so much better.  And yes, there is fun furniture for diminutive bodies that have characters, and colors, and look at least remotely comfortable, but it’s never too early to learn how to take proper care of leather.

Which brings me to everyone’s most dreaded category of Christmas presents: practical gifts.

Yaaaay… I’ll be able to reach things that I previously could not reach…

You probably need a step stool in the bathroom, and yeah, it’ll probably get used 1,000 times more than a doll that looks alarmingly like a prostitute, but imagine seeing that enormous box under the tree, daydreaming about what magic it might contain for days, or even weeks, building your expectations… but it’s a stool. I’m pretty sure I would have cried.

Side note: as an adult, I would actually be THRILLED to get a bookshelf.

Same thing goes for this bookshelf, only I bet the box would be even bigger, so the imaginary gift would be even bigger, and the crushing blow of reality would hurt all the more as you unwrapped your very own beige bookshelf. Book sling? Book hammock? It’s not even a proper bookshelf!

Obviously, this entire business of gift-giving is a minefield, and I’m going to steer clear of the whole thing. This year, my preschooler is getting nothing but white sports socks and shelf-stable canned goods.

Merry Thanksgiving!

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My Cannibal 3 Year Old

“What are we having for dinner tonight, oh light of my life?”

“Mary Poppins!”

[Pause for a beat as we consider whether our offspring has embraced wholesale cannibalism] 

“And what does Mary Poppins taste like?”

[Please don’t say something creepy… please don’t say something creepy…]

“Spaghetti and meatballs!”

“…Oh.”

Entertaining Your Baby With Garbage

Okay, I’m only going to say it once, people: Don’t actually entertain your spawn with garbage. That’s going to make a next-level mess, possibly lead to shockingly expensive emergency room bills, and probably give you a pretty stinky kid in the bargain.

The only time it’s acceptable for a kid to be in a trash can.

That being said, man, the more you spend on carefully researched toys that are specifically designed to engage and stimulate your growing genius, the more that diminutive Einstein just wants to chew on the box it came in. I highly recommend only buying things from dollar stores, or the super-cheap section at the front of Target; in my experience, they can tell that stuff is all cheap crap, and will therefore treasure it forever.

That gold plated fidget spinner still won’t keep him from putting you in the old folks’ home.

But even better than cheap is free! Here’s some free stuff that has genuinely been more interesting than any toy in the house:

An Empty Water Bottle

Is it just me, or does this graphic seem like it’s making these water bottles look like superheroes?

Yep, you heard me right. No, there was nothing in it. No, he wasn’t playing some sort of imaginative game using it as a prop. Ever since the goober figured out how his hands work, he’s been in love with empty water bottles. Looking at them, petting them, lightly chewing them, crinkling the really cheap ones… the possibilities are endless! And by that, I mean I can’t think of anything else to do with an empty water bottle, but for the past three years that’s been all he needs.

Pro Tip: Once he can unscrew the bottle top, make sure ALL of the water is out of the bottle. Even a drop can cause considerable chaos in the back of a car on a road trip.

Cards

Think of the skills they’ll pick up along the way!

A deck of cards. As long as you’re not sentimentally attached to them, or planning to hold a high stakes poker game later, this is genius. She can throw ’em! Fold ’em! Stuff them into things! I’ve tried as hard as I can, and I really can’t think of a way a deck of cards could be dangerous to anyone who’s too young to develop a gambling addiction, so you can let her go nuts.

Pro Tip: if you can find one of those little business card cases at the dollar store, that, like, quadruples the fun. Something to open AND close?! And you can stick your cards in there?? Amazing!

Pipe Cleaners & A Colander

It’s art!

This takes a little imagination, so work with me on this one. You know those little holes in a colander? Stick pipe cleaners into them.

Pro Tip: When you inevitably get bored watching your moppet practice fine motor skills you can even make little stick figures and things out of the pipe cleaners, and stick their legs in the holes so they can stand up. Make a whole family! Your gremlin will think you’re a goddamned Picasso.

Clothespins

**insert the sound of my kid laughing in manic glee**

Probably not a great plan for infants, but I swear to god in the past 24 hours clothespins have been a car, a rocket, stairs, a crocodile, an art installation on the meaning of consumerism in our time, and a way to attach two things together!

Pro Tip: This sounds like a weird one for a “cheap-or-free” thing to do, or at least would have to me, until I found out that apparently there are people who still do old-timey laundry or something, and you can get a 50 pack for a dollar. That’s whole hours of your life you could potentially get back, for a buck!

Clicky Pens

Click… Click… Click… Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick…

Not for the faint of heart (they can write on things, obviously), but apparently there’s nothing in the universe as fascinating as playing with, and inevitably breaking, a cheap clicky pen that you stole from the doctor’s office.

Pro Tip: Just accept that you’re a parent, and nothing will ever be clean, organized, or not-drawn-upon for the next 18 years.

Kleenex Boxes

What could possibly go wrong?

You’ll find this out whether you plan to or not, because the tiny monsters just love to pull kleenex after kleenex out of the box, throwing them with dramatic flourishes, and building a fluffy mound all around themselves. And then you have to pick it all up. And you don’t have any tissues in the box anymore. And maybe you’ve got a cold, and really needed that convenient pop-up action, since you only have one free hand. And there’s cat hair on them. And now the demon-spawn is ripping them into tiny pieces, and you’re realizing the air is filling with fine particles of whatever it is they make tissues out of. Probably something carcinogenic.

Pro Tip: On second thought, just don’t do this one.

Painter’s Tape

You’ll need at least this much to start.

My Mom started this one, and I just can’t thank her enough. There’s painter’s tape on the floor. On the scooter. On the bed. On the cat. It will make you twitch every time you ever see that particular shade of blue, but hey, at least it’s easily removable from most surfaces!

Pro Tip: Don’t get the cheapest masking tape you can find; it won’t come off again. Ask me how I know.

So there you have it! Next rainy day you’re stuck inside, break out all these amazing new ideas, and get 20 minutes total to yourself! Being a parent is so glamorous.

Am I A Psychopath?

From time to time I’ve heard that being a parent is learning to live with your heart running around outside your body, and that’s totally true. I care more about my kid’s welfare than my own, and anything that happens to him happens to me to.

We live as one hive mind now.

Sort of.  I mean, I know every mom is supposed to be empathetic to the point of self-negation, that we’re supposed to feel everything our kid feels, like some sort of psychic umbilical cord that never gets severed. And yeah, that’s true for the big stuff (god help whatever kid ever even thinks about bullying my baby, because I will DESTROY, and salt the earth behind me), but dude, have you met kids? They have a lot of emotions. They’re overflowing with emotions. If emotions were pennies, they’d have more to stuff up their nose than they’d know what to do with.

Toddler wealth is measured in grossness value, along with the danger-to-self index.

That shit is exhausting! Why do you think they need naps in the middle of the day, and snacks pretty much constantly? They get so worn out from having emotions that they get overwhelmed by other emotions because being tired makes them emotional. It’s a feedback loop of tantrums, flying snot, and suffering.

One day, I was sitting with my petit oiseau while he was melting down (probably because I wouldn’t let him bang his head into the wall or something), and I realized I was totally calm. I had reached a level of zen that I didn’t realize could exist outside of a monastery. I was just watching him weeping inconsolably, and had no feelings on the subject.

Nirvana is letting my kid scream for twenty minutes in a parking lot, and just not giving a fuck.

That’s when I realized it: being a parent is learning to be a psychopath.

So I looked it up, and it turns out there’s a checklist of psychopathy, and a surprising number of the qualities could be directly applied to parenting. I won’t bore you with all of them (it’s a pretty long list), but here are a few:

  • glib and superficial charm: “Oh honey, that’s great! I love that drawing that looks totally unique and not at all like the thousands of other masterpieces I’ve already plastered our fridge with! Won’t you make me some more?”

    This is the best fairy princess unicorn ninja I’ve ever seen!

  • cunning and manipulativeness: We spend all of our time studying our offspring, but it’s really just so we know how to manipulate them into doing what we want.
  • grandiose estimation of self: This one is totally the kid’s fault though, and just like the Force, there’s a Light Side and a Dark Side to being the center of a tiny person’s universe.

    The light saber battle was really just Darth trying to go to the bathroom on his own.

  • lack of remorse or guilt: Nope. None.
  • callousness and lack of empathy: I understand that when a grub is weeping inconsolably because he wants to go to Grandma’s house, that child’s heart is genuinely breaking. For him, the emotions are real. For me, it’s just ten minutes that I need to stare into space, planning my next grocery list. God, is he done yet?
  • pathological lying: We’re out of cookies. Daddy and I are totally going to sleep too. The TV is broken.

    No comment.

  • lack of realistic long-term goals: My heir will be able to read and write by the time she’s four!
  • criminal versatility: I’m adept at stealing candy from a baby; smuggling anything from a cookie to an entire Lego set past the border guard playing on the living room floor; “poisoning” his food with hidden vegetables; and jaywalking, because I’ll be damned if I’m walking all the way to the corner.

I used to be full of empathy! I would see a kid having a breakdown in the middle of the grocery store, and I was one of those pushovers whose heart actually went out to the little despairing grub, remembering how hard it was to navigate the world when it doesn’t make any sense to you, you have no concept of impulse control, and you’re literally hungry 100% of the time.

FEED ME

Now? I don’t really give a shit. You do you, kid. You do you.

Parenting is a lot more about survival than I expected, and one of the biggest parts of that is just learning to embrace the inner psychopath that’s apparently lurking deep in everyone’s psyche. If you let all those feelings affect you, you’re a goner, so you start detaching from humanity, pretending to feel delighted or sad or whatever the hell your kid wants out of you while she serves you your tenth imaginary ice cream cone of the day. You feel nothing. You’re dead inside. Which means you’re free. 

So You Want To Raise A Dictator

Let’s be real: all children are natural born dictators. We can either waste all our energy, fighting on against the tide, or we can lean into it, and think about how, when our offspring has taken over the world, we’ll never have to do laundry again! Hopefully.

To that end, I’ve compiled a modest reading selection to prepare your budding little megalomaniac for her future career of world domination.

Weasels 

By Elys Dolan

If leading by example is a good strategy for parenting, then this book is sure to get your kid on any international most-wanted list! Bond-villain-style weasels try to take over the world, hit a brief hiccup in their plans, and then… they do it. They conquer the world, and make their own flag, and print their own money, and it’s great. Also, they’re obsessed with coffee. Basically, these weasels are my spirit animals.

Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken 

by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Harry Bliss

French poultry yearning for discovery and adventure, hooking up with pirates, the circus, and breaking free of what appears to be a Middle Eastern prison cell, even though she technically doesn’t hatch (get it?) any evil plans, it’s pretty obviously just a matter of time. Warning: This book is hella long, and if your kid is anything like mine reading it in installments will be unacceptable.

Jeremiah Jellyfish Flies High! 

By John Fardell

A jellyfish with higher aspirations becomes the leader of a multi-national corporation. And let’s be realistic, becoming CEO might give your mini-me even more power than a full on military coup.

Monster Needs Your Vote 

By Paul Czajak, Pictures by Wendy Grieb

Maybe your kiddo will want to manipulate the system to achieve the highest echelons of power. In that case, she’d better start learning now that the most important part of being a politician is learning how to charm the public. Duck For President makes a solid case for this too, plus it’s got a 90’s Bill Clinton reference that will go way over their heads.

The Octopuppy 

By Martin McKenna

This is a book about embracing who you are, no matter what, which your diminutive dictator is going to have to embrace, seeing as school and Sesame Street are all about teaching him that dominating everyone around you is bad for some reason. Bonus: an octopus is a tried-and-true Villain Pet.

King Baby  By Kate Beaton

This is really just to remind your spawn what she already knows: babies are the ultimate puppet masters, making everyone around them dance for their amusement. Make sure your future president-for-life understands the immense power she yields, and learns to never give it up.

And there you have it! My list of some reading to get your goblin off on the right foot, ready to carpe the hell out of that diem, and maybe that orbis too.

…Orbis means “world” in Latin. “Carpe diem” means “seize the day,” so “carpe orbis” would be “seize the world.” Right? I mean, I sort of extrapolated here, and have no knowledge of Latin whatsoever, so maybe not. Crap. Probably not. Odds are I’m somehow saying something like, “My aunt was a cucumber.” Language isn’t really my thing, which is another good reason to take over the world: make everyone else speak your language, and never have these kinds of translation problems again!

You had to know this picture was coming eventually.