We Are Both Right

Best of: Simple Ways to Surprise Your Kids

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What do you do to surprise your kids? ©ba1969/stock.xchng

One of my favorite parts of being a parent is surprising my kids. Who doesn’t love a good surprise? The thing about surprises are, they don’t even have to be big — just a small gesture with the sole purpose of making someone else happy. And who better than to make happy then your kids? So in that vein, here is our list of ten great ways to make your kids smile:

  1. Dessert for dinner. (We’re doing this one tonight!)
  2. A no-school, goof-off Day. Not that I’m advocating skipping important academic lessons or anything, but every once in a while, isn’t it nice to have a “noneday?”
  3. Notes in a lunchbox. I like to do a joke of the day.
  4. Candy on their pillows. Let them pretend they are in a hotel for the night!
  5. Picnic in the living room. Or in a tent in the backyard.
  6. Balloons in their rooms when they wake up. For no good reason.
  7. Pick them up from school instead of having them ride the bus home. Whisk them away to the movies or the park.
  8. Turn your kitchen into a restaurant. Be the waiter and chef and let your kids order up (from a pre-set menu so you don’t drive yourself crazy!)
  9. Celebrate a crazy holiday. Got a kid who loves chocolate milk? Mark July 28 on the calendar and plan the day around it. Like to cuddle? Check out September 9 — National Teddy Bear Day.
  10. Give them the gift of you. A day of just you and your child, doing whatever you both please.

We know you have more great ideas! How do you surprise your kids?

Best Of: Money Saving Tips You Can Live With

Thinking outside the box for ways to save money in your family? Try these tips. © Svilen Milev/stock.xchng

So by now we all know that if we’re looking to trim our family budget we should cut out $4 lattes and become devotees of extreme couponing.

But how can you save money when 1. you don’t buy lattes and 2. you don’t quite have the extra 40 hours a week required to hunt down fifteen pallets of Diet Coke? For some cost-saving tips that you can live with, and which might actually make a difference to your family budget, read on:

A Penny Here, A Penny There

  • Think twice about that single portion of chicken cutlet and roasted corn from dinner last night. Before tossing it because it’s not enough to stretch for the next family meal, bring it to work for lunch (and save $5) or dice it up for the baby.
  • While we’re talking food, skip the $4.99 12-pack of snack-sized animal crackers that you usually buy to pack with your child’s lunch and divvy up a regular size box of cookies into sandwich bags for grab-and-go convenience.

Now We’re Making Progress

  • If you’ve already done away with spending $60 at the movies and decided that Netflix was more economical, you can do even better than that. Drop the monthly subscription and check out the free DVDs at your town’s library. Same goes with downloading books for your e-reader — most libraries now offer e-book downloads direct from their web sites. While you’re at it, set up a “book” exchange with your friends and swap books you already paid to download.
  • Say what you will about home hair coloring, but when you can snag a box of quality color (using a coupon of course) for $5, why spend $50 (or more) at a salon? Just keep it simple and stick to your natural color, and it’s really tough to mess up.

Big-Time Savings

  • Want to save a bundle (or at least 10%) on car insurance? Check your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles web site to see if they offer an online safe driver course. The last time I took a course like that (pre-kids), it involved sitting in delirious boredom for six hours in a conference room with strangers. I haven’t been able to justify wasting a Saturday like that again since becoming a mom and I’ve been missing out on some hefty savings because of it. But when I read about the web-based course recently, I discovered that the state where I live gives you the same credit for point reduction and a good driver discount on insurance whether you take the course online or in person. It only costs about $30 and I love that I can log on from home whenever I have time (which for me is after the kids have gone to sleep) and take a few days to complete it. The best part? Next time my policy renews, I will have a little more money to spend having fun with the kids on a Saturday.

Spend to Save

  • Sounds like an oxymoron right? But there are a quite a few websites out there — Ebates and Upromise to name just two — that will give you money back any time you make a purchase. In the case of Ebates you’ll get a “big fat check” every few months; with Upromise, the money is deposited into a savings account or directly into your child’s 529 plan for future educational plans. Over the course of a decade, Amanda has socked away over $4,000 using Upromise, doing nothing more than shopping (through links at the site and with the Upromise MasterCard) — shopping she would have done anyway.

We would love to hear your tips and how you get creative with saving in your family. Join us on Facebook and Twitter as we swap more ideas with readers.

Best of: Summer Perks

What's your idea of summer fun with the kids? ©Joe Batluck/stock.xchng

Summer’s in the air, and suddenly everything seems a little bit calmer, and a lot more fun.

The kids are content playing in the sand box. You are happily flipping and flopping over to the hammock with a magazine. And the sun just keeps on shining.

Does it get any better than this? Even the sticky hands can wait until later because nothing much matters on these lazy summer days.

There are lots of perks to spending a summer with kids. Here are our top ten:

1. Finger painting outside.

2. Fewer clothes. Fewer battles.

3. Ice pops all day long.

4. Ice cream for dinner.

5. When it’s over 100 degrees, everyone is welcome in the kiddie pool!

6. Naps in the car on the way home from the beach.

7. No excuses needed if you just feel like running through the sprinkler.

8. A walk or bike ride every night after dinner.

9. Trading the shower for a hose.

10. Going to the library on super-hot days and spending an afternoon reading in the cool. Ahhh.

So while the kids are decorating the driveway (and each other) with chalk, and before it’s time for the next round of ice pops, go ahead and add your favorite summer perks to the list.

Best of: Dad in One Word

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How would you describe your favorite dad in one word? ©dprint4u/stock.xchng

Strength.

Giving.

Wise.

Funny.

Loving.

In other words, Dad.

Sometimes the simplest ideas, like describing the best dad you know in one word, can be tougher than writing a dissertation. But as we round the bases to Father’s Day, readers have shared with us the one word that encapsulates what makes the fathers in their lives so special.

And it’s made us each think of a few words of our own. (Okay, okay, we know — one word each. This will be tough, but there’s always tomorrow for being verbose.) So here goes:

Perspective. Suzanne, the consummate task-master, doesn’t know where she would be without a husband who brings the focus back into perspective every day. Thanks to his unique brand of fathering, the whole family stays balanced. M.’s off-base humor and spontaneity offer comic relief on busy days, and judging by the dinnertime chorus of song parodies, the kids are bound to be chips off the old block.

Multitudinous. A complex word for a complex fellow. Amanda and her husband have been doing this parenting thing for over a decade now, and every day T. amazes her with his depth — his knowledge, his sense of humor, his kindness and his love for his family.

So if you’re still struggling to come up with an original Father’s Day gift, consider putting his one word on a t-shirt. (And then maybe get him tickets to a baseball game, so he has somewhere to wear it.)

What’s one word to describe the best dad you know?

Best of: Summer Reading Kids’ Chapter Books

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What books will your kids read this summer?

How does that rhyme go again? “No more pencils, no more books! No more teacher’s dirty looks!”

While we can’t speak for the #2′s or the educators, it’s safe to say that in both of our homes, the “no more books” part is not an issue. While summer reading is required by many school districts, even if it weren’t, you better believe we’d be making our kids spend some of their precious summer vacation in a cool, quiet spot, absorbed in something that doesn’t make noise or have flashing lights.

And while it’s likely the kids will bring home age-appropriate lists from their teachers with some great suggestions on what to read, here we humbly offer up some of our own choices. Feel free to add your own selections in the comments section below!

Amanda:

The “Ramona” series by Beverly Cleary: You cannot even begin to imagine my absolute delight when my 8-year-old daughter came home with the book “Ramona & Beezus” from the school library one day. (An even greater source of pride? She chose it on her own, long before the recent movie came out.) We read it together aloud, a page at a time. And while she was confused by some of the dated references, we found ourselves laughing out loud at many of Ramona’s misadventures. Unfortunately we didn’t get to finish the book — it was due back before we were done — but we fully intend to pick up where we left off.

Encyclopedia Brown by Donal J. Sobol: I’ve been a fan of mysteries since I was young and Leroy Brown was the main reason why (also, I might have had a little crush on him). These short stories follow the tween-aged detective as he solves crimes big and small, some presented to him by kids in the neighborhood, others by his father, the local police chief. The mysteries themselves are not only a fun read, but they encourage logical thinking. By the third or fourth one in, your child may even be able to figure out “whodunit?” without having to turn to the answers section at the end of the book.

Suzanne:

The Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne: So maybe your summer plans don’t include any trips to far off exotic lands (at least this year). No worries. Give your child one of MPO’s chapter books and you will more than make up for it. These tall tales make history and geography about as easy to swallow as carrots and beets hidden in tomato sauce. My son and I started out reading these books together when he was in kindergarten. He then spent the following two summers bouncing his way through the series and surprising us by what he learned along the way, including obscure facts about Venetian Carnivals and camel rides through the Middle Eastern desert. My favorite: when my husband and I came back from New Orleans and L. knew more about the history of the blacksmith Lafitte than we did after actually being there.

Sports Novels by Matt Christopher: Does someone you know prefer a ball and a bat over the pages of a book? Then you might try throwing one of these chapter books their way while you are driving to batting practice. Author Matt Christopher didn’t earn the title of #1 sportswriter for kids for nothing. His books include fiction stories like The Kid Who Only Hit Homers and Nothin’ But Net, while his numerous biographies on famous athletes will make that book report a breeze once school starts again. These are the books I find my son reading and re-reading late at night with a light under the covers.

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What’s on your child’s summer reading list? What was on yours as a child?

Best of: Kids’ Television Programs

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There are some kids' television shows that don't drive us crazy. What about you? ©Annalog85/stock.xchng

We’ll be the first to admit it: our kids watch television. Sometimes more often than we would like, but it happens.

The thing about kids’ television is that while it is often educational and entertaining, it can sometimes be annoying. (And if you’ve ever watched Barney more than once, you know what we’re talking about.)

But not all children’s TV programs make us want to pull out our hair. Some are well done enough that when your child turns it on, you may actually find yourself sitting down and tuning in. Here are our favorites:

SUZANNE:

Yo Gabba Gabba: You either love it or hate it. The sheer trippiness of this show can be an absolute turn-off, which it was for me at first. But when my two-year-old daughter became a super-fan of Brobee and Foofa, I went over to the dark side. If I tell you that our entire family knows the words to every song on that show (and went to the live concert), you might think I’ve lost it. But it’s true. We can do all the dancey-dances. We predict whether DJ Lance Rock (who must seriously be the envy of all his friends for the money and fame he rakes in wearing a fuzzy orange hat and body suit) is wearing his old shoes (white) or new shoes (orange). We rap along with Biz’s Beat, all smiles as we remember when Biz Markie brought the house down in ’09 while us ’80s parents were screaming the chorus of Just a Friend during the live show meant for our toddler — but we’re not embarrased. The show is actually entertaining, especially with its guest appearances by bands that we once considered cool in another context but who have grown along with us to have families of their own. Give it a chance. It’s like the heyday of Saturday Night Live for the preschool set.

Little Bear: This show has been a staple on Nick Jr. (or Noggin as I still call it) for as long as I’ve been tuning in. My now eight-year-old loved Little Bear then, and I still love it now.  The main characters are genteel bears who are easy on the eyes. And by that I mean completely opposite my other favorite show above.  And maybe that’s why I like it so much. This show’s nap-inducing qualities are like no other. Airing at the end of the afternoon, it only takes me a few minutes of listening to the narrator’s voice and soft music to be in full nap mode. And if I’m lucky, the child at my side will give in too.

AMANDA:

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Right now my toddler is on a “Gickey Mouse” kick so this cartoon is on our screen frequently. It’s OK, the show itself is visually appealing, the characters non-irritating (I mean, it’s Mickey Mouse and Goofy) and the songs are all written and performed by They Might Be Giants, so how bad could it be. Plus, whenever something good happens, we all now know how to do the hot dog dance.

The Big Comfy Couch: This is a Canadian show that aired on PBS (I don’t think it is in production anymore). Mainly about a little clown girl named Loonette and her doll Molly, it’s a very sweet show that my daughter absolutely loved. There were fun segments like “Ten-Second Tidy” and awesome characters — Granny Garbanzo, Major Bedhead and Snicklefritz (the cat). A. was so taken with it she asked to write a letter to Loonette. She got back a letter and a signed picture, endearing the residents of Clowntown to us always.

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Which television shows that your child watches are your favorites?

Best Of: Advice on Being a Mom

What motherly words of advice were like a life saver for you? © Arjun Kartha / stock.xchng

Whether it’s your very first Mother’s Day or your twentieth, you have undoubtedly received some great advice that helped you along the way.

You know the kind we mean. The few words that picked you up when you needed it most. Or the detailed instructions that got you through those first few days home with baby.

Whatever they were and whoever uttered them — those words of wisdom made you realize that you were not alone in the sometimes overwhelming world of motherhood.

We’re sharing ours and we hope you will too:

AMANDA: One of the best pieces of advice about motherhood came, from all people, my husband. Now while he’s a great dad and the best father for my children that I could ever want or hope for, he is undoubtedly not a mother, nor will he ever be.

Still, I will always be grateful for his words of wisdom.

Start a blog.

I know, it’s not a sentimental pearl. Heck, it can’t even be classified as practical. But it was what I needed at the time and personally and professionally changed my life.

For years I had been writing professionally. Writing. Writing. Writing. My dream right? I thought so. Except I wasn’t happy. I was in a total rut. Because for all the words I was churning out on a daily basis, none of them were mine really. It’s not like I was plagiarizing or anything, but I wasn’t writing for me. I was writing what other people wanted me to write. And I was tired.

And then I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant with my youngest. We were freaked to say the least. I mean, we had talked about maybe having a third, but I think we were just about over it. My elder two were in elementary school, I had just lost about 35 pounds (all the baby weight!) — we were happy with our little unit just the way it was. And then two lines.

Big picture I was excited, but acutely, I was overwhelmed. Totally on so many levels. T. and I decided to keep the pregnancy under wraps for a while — we wanted our kids to be the first to know and before we told them about their new little sibling, we wanted to be sure everything was OK. The problem was, I was having trouble not talking about the pregnancy to my family and friends, especially under the surprise circumstances. I was hormonal. I was having mood swings. And I had no outlet, except for one person. And I think he was tired of hearing me talk.

So in his infinite wisdom, or maybe it was desperation, my husband suggested I start a blog.

The thing was, blogging definitely helped me work through my feelings, but it did other things too. Because suddenly I was writing again. Really writing. Like back in high school, dear diary, writing for myself writing. My voice was there all along, I just hadn’t been using it.

It felt so good to write what I wanted and how I wanted to write it. Not the repurposing I was doing in my paid jobs — press releases and stories on parenting that had been written umpteen times. But the funny thing was, the more I wrote about the soon-to-be-S., the more relaxed I became with my other projects. Everything improved. It was amazing.

So short term, the blog was helping me professionally and emotionally. But as time went on, I realized it had a much greater, valuable purpose. It’s S.’s history — his life and my pregnancy with him.

Now I haven’t been as good as I used to be as writing in it, but when I go back and look, I can not only read about S.’s “firsts” in great detail, but incidents and milestones that I would never think to record in a baby book. Funny yarns like the time C. lost S.’s exersaucer and all of his funny nicknames, as well as things from my pregnancy like how I was a childbirth class delinquent.

When I look at C.’s and A.’s baby books I see a lot dates and grasp at fuzzy details at the edge of my memory. When I read the blog about S., I remember.

SUZANNE:  It was my first job out of college and I was an assistant in the public relations office of a hospital. At the helm was this vibrant woman in her forties who was the best mentor you could want. She was a Fulbright Scholar. Be it in the Board Room or on Broadway, she had stage presence. She spoke as passionately about breastfeeding as she did her career. She was a fabulous cook, a gardener and looked as put together in Chanel as she did a barn jacket. In other words, you could say she knew a little about doing it all.

And even though I worked for her years before I had my first child, there was one piece of advice from her that I never forgot.

Superwoman. Stupid woman.

Yes, that was her advice. The woman who seemingly did it all said you were stupid if you thought you could do it all.

Which means a lot more to me now than it did then.

By nature, I’m the consummate multi-tasker. I feel accomplished when I fill my days to the max. But lately it seems to have reached a crescendo. My mind is now racing around the clock. My children are seeing way too much of a harried mom who is short on energy.

And I’m beginning to realize that if I keep pushing the limits, instead of having it all, I might actually lose it all. How I wish she was still around to ask her what to do next.

But I guess that’s the thing about advice. It’s like someone coming along and cleaning the eyeglasses you didn’t even know were dirty. And then it’s up to you to find your own way.

Or meet someone with some more great advice.

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What’s the best advice you’ve received since becoming a mom? What advice would you give to a mom-to-be? (Besides telling them to visit We Are Both Right!)

Best of: Ways to Spend an Income Tax Refund

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You did the math and as it turns out, you're getting an income tax refund! Now how to spend it... ©djshaw/stock.xchng

According to the IRS, the average tax refund for 2011 is $2,985. If you are one of the lucky nearly 65 million Americans to receive one, you’ve got some planning (and maybe some spending) to do. And while saving your income tax refund is a prudent, smart option, the reality is some, if not all of the money that many folks receive in April gets spent.

Here are our favorite ways to pass the buck:

Amanda:

Vacation: When we get to spend our tax refund on a family trip, I’m definitely in (and going to) a happy place. And since that’s what we’re doing this year, I’m ecstatic. This time around we are taking the kids on a surprise trip to Disney World, but in the past our April bonus has funded a jaunt to Colorado and a cruise to Canada. When I was younger my parents used to use their tax refund to pay for our family vacations and it’s a tradition I’m happy to continue.

House repairs/improvements: When we have to spend money on the house, I’m not so much with the happy as I mentioned above. Yes, investing in our home is a good idea. When it’s necessary — a clogged pipe, a filled cesspool, torn aluminum siding — I’m glad that we have the money in our account, not thrilled we have to spend it on something so useful.

First birthday party: Last year our youngest son turned one and we wanted to celebrate. Big time. So we did, inviting 75 friends and family members to a bash held at a beach club over Memorial Day weekend. Tons of food, live music, toys and games for all the kids. Was it extravagant? Yup. Will he remember it? Nope. Was it one of my best days ever? For sure. It was six hours of pure fun and I know our family will never forget it.

Suzanne:

Fun Home Improvements: While Amanda talks about the run-of-the-mill home improvements which sometimes need doing, we like to throw our extra funds into more visible and enjoyable home projects. Like buying furniture and new carpeting for our family room, which is what we did this year. Gone are the fifteen-year-old couches. Bye-bye big TV that takes up half the room. And hello cushy rugs without blue marker. If the refunds were as big as they used to be, maybe we could plan on doing the kitchen next year, but we might have to find a larger pot of gold for that endeavor.

Summer Camp: We kind of have no choice on this one, as it also doubles as day care during the summer. Considering what it costs to send my son to his day camp, it certainly qualifies as a luxury in my mind since it wouldn’t otherwise fit into our annual budget.  Besides, if I don’t get to lounge by the pool and play tennis every day, somebody should.

Are you getting a income tax refund? How will you spend it?

Best of: Books for Toddlers

You might have to spend a few extra minutes at bedtime saying good night to the walls and such, but this classic children's book is well worth the read. ©HarperCollins Publishers

There’s something about those first books you read with your toddler that sticks with you for a very long time. (And not just because you have been reading the same two books every night for the last three weeks and can all but recite them in your sleep.)

The titles will come to you in an instant when you are asked to bring your favorite children’s book to a baby shower years from now.

They will still have a place on your child’s bookshelf, long after he develops an affinity for chapter books with underpants in the title and toilet plungers on the cover.

You might even find yourself waxing poetic about these beloved children’s stories someday, only to realize that you can’t recall the character out of the book you will be discussing that evening at book club.

So while they are still fresh in our minds, we figured we would share our favorite books for toddlers with you:

SUZANNE’S PICKS

Barnyard Boogie by Jim and Janet Post: My husband had this routine of bringing L. to Barnes & Noble once a week, buying himself a coffee and reading to our son in his stroller. When he came home with Barnyard Boogie, a puppet book that has inserts for your hand into the lips of an oversized felt mouth, I couldn’t wait to hear his narration and see the baby’s reaction. Every page gives you an opportunity to act out another animal voice as you move the hand puppet in tune, with verses like “I’m a linky-slinky jazz cat, I sing meow, meow, meow. Linky-slinky me, Linky-slinky, ow. I’m a linky-slinky jazz cat, meow, meow, meow.” And the kicker — the Barnyard Boogie song that begs to be belted out in your best farmer voice on the last page. I have to admit that I still take this book out when I want to give the kids a good laugh.

I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas: This book is about Owen, a sweet little pig who doesn’t want to leave his mommy to go to school. I found it in a desperate search online right around the time my son’s separation anxiety reached its peak at 18 months old and it came in handy again when S. went through the same thing at day care. Taking you through Owen’s day at school, from coloring a picture for his mom to spilling juice on his snack and braving the slide, the illustrations show a range of emotions that are backed up by his mom’s words: I love you all day long… when you share your favorite purple crayon… or when someone takes your toy. I love you when I’m with you and I love you when we’re apart.

No Hitting! by Karen Katz: Have you ever seen the Yo Gabba Gabba promo where the dad is talking about the show’s messages resonating with his son, how he hears them sing “Don’t bite your friends” and he gets it? That’s what this book did for us. As the story takes you through all the impulsive things a toddler might do, like sticking out his tongue at mommy, each no-no (“I’m mad! I want to squeeze the cat.”) is paired with a alternative action on the flip up portion of the page (“That’s not okay, but I can squeeze some clay.”) My daughter took this as her opportunity to break out her morals and say, “Noooo, we don’t do that.” While it didn’t ward off temper tantrums altogether, reading this book did help.

AMANDA’S PICKS

Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle: Such a simple story, but my toddlers have always loved it. I don’t know if it’s the familiar cadence of the words or the bright, colorful pictures that are found on every page, but I suspect it’s a combination of both. Our youngest S. is especially a fan, asking to read it not only a few times a day, but more than once in each sitting. He’s always been particularly taken with the second-to-last-page (in our board book version anyway) that reads “Children, children, what do you see?” and shows assorted kids of all shapes, sizes and colors. I’m not sure what draws him to this exactly, but he will spend minutes (remember, this is a toddler we are talking about), staring at the page and tracing the different faces with his fingers.

Pete’s Potty (Begin Smart Books): This is a new-to-us title, one of hundreds I would imagine that tackles potty training for toddlers. My little guy has been interested in it for about six months now. At first, I took his attentiveness to the book as a good sign that maybe he’d want to try it himself, but alas, any movement I make with him towards the bathroom results in him yelling a lot. Still, he’ll bring me this at least once a day, happily looking for Pete’s missing potty (it’s not in the kitchen or the garden by the way). He’s especially taken with the mom in the book who doesn’t wear glasses (I do) and makes cookies, and the father who not only wears glasses, but has hair (my husband is lacking both). “Daddy glasses?” S. will inquire, pointing at the page. “No!,” he’ll laugh, shaking his head. “Daddy hair? No!” Good times for everyone!

Baby at the Farm and Where is Baby’s Birthday Cake? both by Karen Katz: I’m including both of these titles by the same author because by far, these are my toddler’s favorite books. Collectively, I think I’ve read both of these stories to him as many times as I’ve read books period. Simple lift-the-flap books with cheerful illustrations starring an adorable baby, S. loves looking for the rouge birthday cake and seems surprised every time we find it. And the trip to the farm is always fun, especially because some of the pages offer a chance to touch the mane of a horse and feel the eggs of a chicken. Plus, we get to make lots of animal noises, always a fun expenditure.

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When your toddler settles into your lap for a snuggle and a read, what book can you count on him to bring with him?

Best of: The Most Annoying Kids’ Toys

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Which toys would you like to take not only out of the toy box, but out of the house? ©Step2

Most of the time, toys are fun playthings designed to entertain and sometimes even educate.

Most of the time.

There are, however, instances (for grown-ups anyway) where a toy is anything but something you derive joy from. Rather, it becomes something you view as a beeping, blinking, battery-sucking object of doom.

Dramatic much? Maybe. But if you’ve ever been annoyed by one of your child’s treasured trinkets, then you know that there is no exaggerating the level of irritation, nor the spike in your blood pressure every time you trip over it.

So in that vein, we present our (least) favorite toys:

Amanda:

Elefun: This one seems harmless enough — sweet even. I mean what could be cuter than an adorable baby elephant and dozens of colorful butterflies? That is until you actually get the toy and play with it. The premise is simple — Elefun shoots the butterflies out with his trunk and your kids have to catch them with their nets. Except it doesn’t quite work that way. Sometimes the butterflies get stuck. And sometimes the fan that is supposed to make the butterflies fly isn’t strong enough to do so. Also, Elefun likes batteries. A lot. And do you know how long it takes all of the butterflies to fly up in the air and land? Not very. Which means you and your kids are spending more time putting the butterflies back into Elefun rather than catching them.

Crayola “Washable” Color Bubbles: Another toy that sounds great but has an incredibly flawed execution. I bought these for our nearly 2-year-old, thinking he’d get a kick out of the colors. He did. What I did not get a kick out of was spending a good hour on my hands and knees, scrubbing our deck after the mixture stained it a dark blue, scrubbing my son’s hands and face after the mixture stained him a dark blue and scrubbing his clothing after the mixture stained them a dark blue too. Trust me on this one — these bubbles might be made of soap, but the dye does not come out.

Trampolines: I feel like I’m in the minority with this one but I can’t stand these things. Are we the only family I know that doesn’t own one (except for Suzanne’s)? Safety nets or not, to me a trampoline is nothing more than an incredibly enticing, bouncarific invitation for a kid to get hurt. Broken bones, bruised limbs, bumped heads — thanks, but no thanks. I get that they are a good way for kids to exercise but I suspect I can find another way to help my kids stay active that doesn’t involve hurtling in the air over and over again. (Not to mention that our pediatrician said she’d drop our kids as patients if we ever bought one.)

Suzanne:

First of all, in the spirit of disagreeing, I have to say I like Elefun! We just played it the other night at a friend’s house (oh, the wild and crazy parties we get invited to these days) and it worked like a charm. But since this isn’t about our favorite toys, rather our least favorite, here goes:

Little Mommy Talking Doll: Yes the one that was accused of saying things other than goo-goo and ga-ga, which coincided with my daughter getting this doll for her first birthday. The voice immediately struck me as eery (and that was before we could even listen closely to the words). Once the cake plates were cleaned up and the cheese doodles crumbs were picked out of the rug, I had already made the decision to remove her batteries, just so that we didn’t spend a sleepless night being spooked by the doll who never shut-up. She would talk whenever she felt like it, regardless of whether there was a human within reach or in sight. I don’t do dolls with their own brains. S. still has it, but we just can’t seem to find batteries that will make her talk again.

Slip-N-Slide: After my son came home with burns on his chest from sliding down this slippery mat about a hundred too many times last summer, I turned sour on this classic. He probably should have taken a cue from the other kids who figured out when enough was enough, except that to him it only meant that he got to take extra turns. So sliding down a water-soaked mat that provides about a millimeter of protection between you and errant rocks in the lawn was banned forevermore by this fun-hating mommy.

Nerf Guns: I’m not a fan of any toy gun, but I do let my son play with the Nerf versions if only because they’re huge and orange and have no chance of being mistaken for the real thing. In this case, it’s not even the gun that ends up on my least favorites list — it’s those orange foam darts with the suction cup at the end that get shot out of the gun in rapid fire that make me want to misplace the toy for a few weeks at a time. They end up all over the room when they’re fired, behind couches, in shoes, on top of lamps, and then the dog ultimately finds them before we do, treating them like her favorite chew toy. (Honestly, I don’t mind when she bites them in half, because that means there’s one less to look for.) And I know I’m not alone on this one, because as laid-back as Amanda is I remember her shuddering when our three oldest had a Nerf War in her living room when her youngest was weeks old. The thought of the baby finding a dart in his Pack-n-Play was justification enough for a temporary ban on this toy.

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Now it’s your turn. What toys do you find the most annoying? Any on our list you disagree with?