the smell of my desperation has become a stench

For the Kids

I’ve spent the last several months trying to thin out the collection of toys in the house that go unused, including all those tiny bits and pieces that inevitably end up camouflaged in the middle of the rug and cut a gaping hole in my foot. Polly Pockets, I AM LOOKING AT YOU.

All that work and now it’s the holiday season. I am equal parts dreading it and dreading it. Did I tell you I played scrooge in the 8th grade? Of course I nailed it. Won an Emmy.

Every year I take a look at the entire haul and have to figure out where to store everything. I know you know that it gets totally ridiculous. Some years I give up and just shove everything into a closet and hope that when Marlo opens it nothing falls on her head and knocks her out. The rule this year: every gift they receive means they have to donate a toy they already have. Storage problem solved. ER visit avoided.

So. This year I want to get the kids more substantial things, more useful things with less tiny parts, and here I’ve gathered some ideas. Ideas for my own kids, and ideas if you have to buy gifts for someone else’s kid. I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

1. Spalding NBA Street Edition Basketball $17.99

2. Deluxe Standing Easel by Melissa & Doug $67.91

3. NERF N-Strike Rampage Elite Blaster available on eBay $28.89

4. Horse stamp set $10.95

5. KIDS GUERRA Black Denim with Yellow Plaid $35

6. Green Toys Tea Set $24.95

7. Jellycat ‘Cordy Roy Rhino’ Stuffed Animal $24

8. The Classic Green Bean Bag $39.99

9. Girls Long Belted Frost Free Coat $50

10. Morgan Cycle Retro Scooter, Silver $84.99

11. Kurio Kids Tablet with Android 4.0 available on eBay $149.99

12. Cable-Knit Crew-Neck Sweater $17

13. Nordstrom ‘Regan’ Fashion Boot $29.96

14. Wooden Stir Xylophone/Drum $32

15. Grey Chevron Wristlet $28

16. Wildkin Big Dots Sleeping Bag $76.99

17. Safari Memory Game $15

18. Plush Stuffed Linus Lion $10.99


This edition of Essentials is sponsored by eBay. From the new to the hard to find, when it’s on your mind, it’s on eBay.

  • Katie

    2012/11/19 at 10:40 am

    My daughter has the tea set. Bossiest tea party ever!

  • Lacquer_Linen

    2012/11/19 at 11:00 am

    This is great! I don’t have kids yet and always have a hard time knowing what to buy for my Godson so this will really help me out! Thanks!

  • Shannon Conley

    2012/11/19 at 11:07 am

    we got the melissa and doug easel for my bfs grandkids last year (5 and 4 yo) and they love it. Good luck with the carpet toys. I’d suggest hardwood, but then you just slide on the left-out bits.

  • Kate

    2012/11/19 at 11:35 am

    This year every kid who hasn’t already gotten a copy during the birthday season is getting Ivy and at least one of the Ivy and Bean books because I think they are hilarious. Slightly older kiddos will be gifted with The Penderwicks. Other books that will probably be distributed will be: I Want My Hat Back, Stuck, Cold Snap, and Little Tug. The game Pengoloo doesn’t make me want to tear my hair out and is one of the best beginner games I’ve come across.

    We are also enforcing the pick-out-some-toys-to-give-away-before-more-come-into-this-house strategy. Those in Salt Lake City with new toys and clothes lying around, think about giving to The Candy Cane Corner shop through The Road Home. Amazing amazing program.

  • Andi

    2012/11/19 at 11:39 am

    Damnit, I just bought that wristlet for myself it was so cute. So maybe I have the taste of a child. SO WHAT.

  • Andi

    2012/11/19 at 11:41 am

    Also, I thought I’d add:

    YES, this comes iwth a lot of pieces but the Melissa and Doug wooden unit blocks are the #1 toy in our house. The corners are rounded so stepping on them doesn’t even hurt too much.

    Every single day those blocks are taken out and played with. They don’t make noises. They’re not multicoloured plastic ugliness. They’re just blocks. And both my kids love them.

  • Heather B. Armstrong

    2012/11/19 at 11:49 am

    Leta LOVES the Ivy and Bean books. I think she’s read all of them. Thanks for the heads up about The Candy Cane Corner Shop.

  • Heather B. Armstrong

    2012/11/19 at 11:51 am

    I’m buying one for myself, too. I’m getting Leta one because she’s earning an allowance and needs a place to store her hard-earned moolah. And I think it’s way cuter than something that has a television character on it.

  • Heather B. Armstrong

    2012/11/19 at 11:53 am

    I think I speak for a lot of parents: give our kids something simple.

  • Colleen Frey

    2012/11/19 at 12:02 pm

    We got the same for our granddaughter last year (8 yrs) and she loves it.

  • delpien

    2012/11/19 at 12:11 pm

    why is it that no matter how awesome/educational/trendy/fun/cool a christmas toy is, my kids always end up playing with an empty shoe box and an unsharpened pencil???

  • Elizabeth

    2012/11/19 at 12:27 pm

    I love Melissa and Doug products *except* for the rubber stamps. They aren’t as high quality as you’d find elsewhere—hard to get a good image because the rubber extends all the way across the wooden base instead of being cut around the design. There are better options online, and also at places like Michael’s/similar. : )

  • Heather B. Armstrong

    2012/11/19 at 12:44 pm

    Ooh. Good to know. Thanks!

  • caree

    2012/11/19 at 12:50 pm

    I got my 11 month old (first b-day 2 days after christmas) 3 of the jellycats (the elephant, the rhino and the lion) mostly… because I am crazy, in that he would probably be happy with wrapped empty boxes. So maybe they are for me. But hey, he can grow in them!

  • Jennifer Daddio

    2012/11/19 at 12:52 pm

    These are great. Thank you for posting. : )

  • caree

    2012/11/19 at 12:55 pm


  • kaptaink

    2012/11/19 at 1:19 pm

    Thanks so much for the suggestion of The Penderwicks – my 11 yo wanted to start reading the twilight series and I think this will be much, much better.

  • jessiCat

    2012/11/19 at 1:48 pm

    If anyone can help me out with gift ideas for a 9 year old boy, I will dance at your next wedding. 🙂

  • Joseph Pinderschloss-Przybylsk

    2012/11/19 at 2:22 pm

    Oh please yes. The maternal grandparents always get our kids 15-20 presents each, only one or two of which are meaningful and will actually be still played with in more than a month.

  • Joseph Pinderschloss-Przybylsk

    2012/11/19 at 2:27 pm

    Does he not like Legos? I don’t know any boys that age that don’t 🙂 If he likes sports, nothing is simpler or more useful than a soccer ball, though don’t get a cheap plastic one. Nerf guns are very popular as well, unless the parents don’t like guns in any form.

  • HeatherArmstrong

    2012/11/19 at 2:59 pm

    Every boy in Leta’s grade is obsessed with Stacking Cups (like these). Like, crazed about them.

  • warblerific

    2012/11/19 at 3:03 pm

    I have 3 + 5 yr old boys, but 9 nieces/nephews of various ages/genders. I’m starting to abhor more toys, and am discovering the staying power, challenge, and quiet of games. Ideas this year include card games: Uno, Spot-it, Set. Flexies (plastic dohickies that you can build into stuff), and board games: Labyrinth, Blokus, and Guess Who. Good luck! Love this discussion.

  • addie877

    2012/11/19 at 4:00 pm

    How is the grey Chevron Wristlet for a child- I WANT IT lol… so smart!

  • jessiCat

    2012/11/19 at 7:28 pm

    Sigh! He is way into those speed stacks. He even has the glow in the dark version. Thank you for the suggestion, though! If you can think of anything else, please (seriously, I am grasping at Santa straws here) send them my way 🙂

  • jessiCat

    2012/11/19 at 7:31 pm

    He has a hard time with Legos (adhd), but will do some things with them. He has every ball known to man (soccer, basketball, baseball, football…). Also, he has all the dang Nerf Guns that are “cool” right now (his birthday was last month). I am stumped, y’all!

  • Sara K

    2012/11/19 at 7:36 pm

    Heather something is amiss with your posts in reader. Waaaaahh 🙁

  • Susan

    2012/11/19 at 8:00 pm

    I love giving Klutz or Chicken Socks books. I’m genuinely excited when my girls receive them too. They’re always fun and small. Check out the tape book. What 3-year old doesn’t love tape!

  • Kate

    2012/11/19 at 8:21 pm

    I adore the Penderwicks. After reading the first one, I immediately wanted to adopt four girls of the same age. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed.

  • Kate

    2012/11/19 at 8:22 pm

    I am taking Luke to drop off some toys in December. Let me know if you want to come with us. 🙂

  • kate

    2012/11/19 at 8:25 pm

    Museum memberships are always awesome for simple and a gift that keeps on giving.

  • Jessica

    2012/11/19 at 11:11 pm

    My little brother and cousins are into skylanders.

  • karen

    2012/11/20 at 2:22 am

    Please no guns! this world doesn´t need moor guns!

  • Kyla

    2012/11/20 at 5:56 am

    Experiences over things. What your kid really wants is you, present and engaged and having fun with them. Make christmas last all year with museum or zoo memberships, family classes – everything from cooking to archery is avaliable through your local rec. dept, tickets to plays or concerts,, weekend trips to explore nearby cities…we all lament that our children grow up and away. Teach them now that your fun to be with, that your family time is fun and enjoyable! It will pay you back for your entire life, not just 18 years

  • Jennifer

    2012/11/20 at 6:02 am

    my daughter has a Gund monkey that is like the rhino. it is her absolute favorite. if you have that earmarked for Marlo, i bet she’s going to love it!

  • skmbrown

    2012/11/20 at 9:17 am

    My 9-year-old loves Beyblades. He loves changing all the parts around and making “new” ones. Also, very into all the Percy Jackson books and the Kane Chronicles. And for some reason, he’s really into origami. He’s got ADHD, too, but has this crazy spacial reasoning ability to learn origami from a book. Kids’ brains are amazing. 🙂

  • jessiCat

    2012/11/20 at 10:30 am

    Thank you SO much! Those are great ideas!! 🙂 I bet he would like origami also.

  • jessiCat

    2012/11/20 at 10:30 am

    Thank you!! 🙂

  • Kristin

    2012/11/20 at 11:38 am

    We have the stacking craze too – Ella hit under 14 seconds for a cycle last night and you would have thought she broke the world record.

  • Stephanie - Home with the Kids

    2012/11/20 at 10:10 pm

    My youngest desperately wants the new pony from FurReal Friends, Baby Butterscotch. She saw it in the store the other day, and that’s all she’s talking about now for a present.

  • vanessasteck

    2012/11/21 at 7:03 am

    there’s actually a lot of evidence that war and weapon play is good for children (albeit usually using homemade weapons). and I say that as someone who is as hard core anti gun as you can get.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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