Laurence Mackin and his wife don't want to spoil their first child with too many toys. Their friends and family think differently
It was my daughter’s second Christmas this year and she is starting to get wise to the ways of the world. She seems to have identified the man in the red suit as 'a good thing’. In the weeks leading up to the main event, she takes to pointing at him and looking at us hopefully, usually while saying one of her five words, with which she uses to communicate an entire galaxy of emotions.
The Christmas tree got an appreciative “Woooooo” whenever we turned on the lights. In fact, around our Dublin 7 neighbourhood, every set of lights got an appreciative “Woooooo”. Whether it was the full-blown festive fever of a house that had decked the halls, gardens, garage and gargoyles, or a scraggly set of fairylights thrown across a skinny front shrub: all, in the eyes of my daughter, are now deemed equally worthy of a stop, a stare and a “Wooooooo”.
So at the tender age of 18 months she has started to figure things out. But, not wanting her to be spoiled entirely, we put strict limits on what she can have, and luckily our families agreed to respect the terms of the agreement that will be familiar to anyone with a small cost centre. Yes, she would get some toys on the Big Day. But everyone else was banned from buying them.
Clothes, fine. Books, good. Anything else was going under the stairs until it found a home that needed it more.
Our families being the honourable people they are, ignored our pact entirely. Yes, we now have lovely clothes and adorable books in abundance. But they have also filled our house with enough single-use plastic to bring on a full fiery blast of the climate change guilts.
There is a small, pink, plastic phone belonging to a certain pig. It trills and beeps, and causes a near nuclear-level conflict when she and two of her friends decide they all want to play with it at once.
There is a dog called Waffles. When you squeeze his paw he plays a Motown-esque tune that is just the right side of bland to avoid a copyright suit, and an unseen chorus somewhere in his stomach sings the words “Everybody: Waaaa. Fffffle. Doggy.” There is more, much more. But I don’t want my editor to accuse me of eating up the word count with more meaningless words than usual. These Waffle doggy words are ruining my life; there’s no reason to ruin hers.
There is a small yellow wooden box toy that makes no sound. It has shapes that you poke through holes. It has colourful wire you run wooden ovals along. It has a lid that closes neatly. It makes no sound. I love this mute box. It speaks quietly to my soul.
And then there is the llama. It is about a foot tall and has a solid leatherette lead, like a riding crop that is attached to its neck. (Don’t dare feel sorry for it.) On the top of this riding crop is a tiny, tiny button that you have to touch with extreme precision. (She perfects this precise manoeuvre at the second attempt.)
If you press this button, the llama leaps into action. He walks across the floor on his little hooves. Or to be more precise, he clacks across my wooden floor with his cloven devil daggers. And then he pauses. And then he shakes his little wooly arse. And then he repeats the process. All to the unadjustable, voluminous tune of La Bamba.
“Woooooo,” says my daughter. I turn the tree lights on to distract her while I shove him under the stairs.
Parenting tip no 8
I spend a lot of time at home cooking as I want to spend a lot of time at home eating, and it’s hard to do one without the other. My daughter, curious about everything from locked bathroom doors to the deadly drawer of knives, insists on getting involved, regardless of the pans of boiling water and whirring instruments nearby. To stop her squawking at my feet, one set of grandparents bought her a small wooden tower. It stands beside me when I cook and she can climb up into it, giving her an extra foot in height and a previously unrivalled vantage point. She’s hardly ever out of the thing and it means I can cook while she clatters a few empty bowls around while in the guise of helping. I had never seen them before and there are 101 versions, but they all do a very basic job in making my and, potentially, your life easier.
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