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Reality Check: Thanks, But No Thanks

Q. My toddler receives tacky toys (bright, plastic, battery-powered, loud) as gifts from well-meaning friends and relatives. Is there a polite way to let people know which kinds of toys we'd prefer?

A mom I know decided one December that she could no longer live with her 4-year-old son's tacky toys and that from then on her child would be surrounded only by playthings made of unpainted wood. She purged the playroom and informed family and friends. I was of two minds about this: It seemed overly controlling, even to me, but I was envious of her new monochromatic playroom.

The Martha Stewart in me, too, is offended by noisy and cheaply constructed (though hardly inexpensive) toys. Case in point: a $40 doll that shakes her booty on command and consumes batteries like I down reduced-fat potato chips. Why did I allow this hot-pink and blonde plaything into my tasteful abode? To see the look of sheer ecstasy on 5-year-old Ellie's face when she opened the package. Then there's the toy kitchen, a hunk of astonishingly garish and apparently indestructible plastic we've lived with for the past seven years. It's moved with us three times, and every time I try to get rid of it, it enjoys a renewed popularity.

The truth is, that old toy kitchen has provided two kids with hundreds of hours of fun. And although a tasteful (to parents) wooden version might have done the same, the colorful "plasticness" is part of its kid appeal. Kids love kitsch.

If you must exert some quality control over the presents your child receives, tell friends and family that your child is "collecting" wooden toy trains, for example, or that your toddler "really needs some new books." There are polite ways to get people to give your child toys that you'd prefer. But remember, the point of a toy is that it's loved and played with by its owner, not that it necessarily blends well with one's decor.}]

[I {Trisha Thompson is a contributing editor to }]PARENTING[I { magazine and a former editor-in-chief of }]BabyTalk.