Every Sunday morning Sasha asks for the car section. This began way back when she was old enough to realize that Daddy found the New York Times very interesting on weekend mornings. She would go after it, tearing into the paper with her tiny fingers. So my husband decided to make one section Sasha’s section. And that section turned out to be Automobiles. Usually, she looks through it carefully, examining all of the cars. But last weekend she spread it out on the living room floor and announced that it was time for a “nice simple picnic lunch”—a phrase she must’ve gotten from Harold and the Purple Crayon. She proceeded to gather all of her stackable plastic sandwich fixins and started taking orders. “What do you want?” she asked me and my husband. “Onions? Pickles? Peppers? Bread?” I love how the bread is always optional on her sandwiches. As long as you don’t tell her more than three items, she usually fulfills the orders pretty accurately. She gave me my sandwich and I sat with her on the car section, fake-eating (only pretend to eat it Mommy!) a pickle, onion, and cheese sandwich in my pj’s and robe.
Having toys around can feel like a pain—all the mind numbing electronic noises and the tripping over of things. Ugh, things! But there are certain ones that when Sasha plays with them, I think, That thing is making my life so much better at this moment. Thank God we have that thing. The stackable sandwich is one of those things. I picked it up last summer brand new at a local consignment shop, before Sasha really had any interest in stacking. But since then it has saved me from whining fits and hitting and getting my ass bitten while I’m cooking dinner. What, Honey? You’re pissed because I’m not paying attention to you? How about you make me a sandwich! So today, instead of my usual book and music recommendations, I’m offering a special holiday edition of the “We Can’t Stop . . .” series: We Can’t Stop Playing With. I’ve been reluctant to recommend toys on here because I tend to try to get most of our toys as hand-me-downs or on consignment (or rescued from the trash) but hey, it’s the holiday season, and it’s a time when I do spend some money on toys, and I suspect many of you do, too. Please remember, anything you buy after clicking on the Amazon links on this site means a small percentage goes to support LST. Thank you kindly in advance should you choose this route.
First Thing We Can’t Stop Playing With: Sandwich Shop by Green Toys (mentioned above)
Up next is one for the babies. When Sasha was about three months old (I think?) and she switched from accidentally hitting things with her hands to intentionally reaching for things, the object she first reached for with wide-eyed wonder was the Whoozit Activity Spiral by Manhattan Toy. We hung this thing from her car seat when we were out for dinner or otherwise occupied and it never ceased to mesmerize her, especially the dangling mirror. Even now, when she digs deep into a toy bin and finds this toy, she wants to shake the rattle or pull on the ball with the retracting cord.
Okay, while we’re with the babies, here’s another that started as an infant lovey and is perhaps even more beloved now. When my parents gave Sasha this cat blankie I named her Petunia, and when Sasha was able to talk it became “Ponya,” which has stuck to this day. We have lost Ponya many times—at the doctor’s office, the supermarket—but somehow she always turns up. The good news is, if we ever really lost her, she is very replaceable (sorry, Ponya). And for those of you not into pink kitties, Angel Dear makes all sorts of other cute little versions of their very, very soft Blankie.
Now back to toddler land—though everything I’m going to write about here can be enjoyed to some degree by younger kids, too. Just make sure you hide the swallowables. Coins, for example. One of Sasha’s all-time favorite toys is the cash register by Learning Resources. At first it was all about pressing the buttons and making the cash drawer open. Now that we’re sure she won’t eat the money, it’s all about the cash. She walks around with handfuls of plastic change, asking, “Mommy, do you want some cash money?” “Daddy, would you like thirty-five dollars and ten cents?” There’s a real penny or two mixed in those drawers too, because she recently discovered the joy of finding lucky pennies (with her toddler accent it comes out “yucky money”) and she knows the difference—often going on urgent hunts for her real money.
Now for another button-pusher: the B. Hellophone by DoodleDoo Battat Inc. This is great for car rides. I can’t say it really satisfies Sasha’s desire to constantly be playing with my phone—again, she knows the difference between real and fake—but she is in love with the record/playback feature on this phone. Once, before going on a business trip, my husband recorded himself saying, “Hello Sasha, this is Daddy calling from Boston.” Whenever we lose that recording, Sasha insists that he re-record the same message. And if he doesn’t get the intonation exactly right, it *must be* recorded again.As for art supplies, we experiment with all kinds of paint, drawing tools, dough, and stamps, but the medium I turn to most often for its containability is Do-A-Dots. We can do them lightly, we can bang them hard. Sasha has discovered that if she presses the end into the paper for a few seconds the ink bleeds out into a puddle. These dotters can be used on their own or can augment any art project. (One of Sasha new favorite things to do is place a stamp in the center of a dot.) Best part? There is virtually no cleanup—unless your kid has been creative in his choice of dotting surface.
Recently we’ve been very into Colorforms. I have fond memories of these as a kid (though not so much in the putting them back part—they never went back as perfectly as I would’ve liked!). When we take out the Colorforms, I know we’ll be occupied for a good fifteen minutes minimum and I won’t be bored in the least. Sasha’s favorite shapes are the long skinny rectangles, which she calls “noodles.” We occasionally make snowmen, but mostly it’s just about naming shapes and colors, peeling them off the page, and placing them on the board and moving them around. This is a toy whose potential will undoubtedly grow with Sasha’s imagination and I can’t wait to see what that looks like.
The last thing I want to recommend is something I couldn’t have lived without when Sasha broke her leg. We are in the midst of the anniversary of her 7-week stint in a cast. When the weather turned this autumn, memories of that time came rushing back with the smell of the first chill in the air. What I kept picturing was a forlorn Sasha belted into her Radio Flyer Pathfinder Wagon in our living room, a cast topped with a giant sweat sock on one leg; the other leg dainty and small.
That’s when I introduced her to videos—she’d watch Sesame Street’s “B is for Bubble” over and over—waiting for me to prepare a meal and then to wheel her around to another room in the apartment. We still use that wagon, but now strictly outdoors. It has been great for walks to the library with another toddler (Sasha and her friend Freddy explode with giggle fits every time they go over a bump, which is, like, every five seconds) or to get to Sasha’s favorite tree stumps to climb at the park. Now that I think of it, that Sesame Street DVD has also come in very handy. Sasha has since branched out from “B is for Bubble” and now will watch most of the videos on the show’s 40th anniversary collection.
It’s nice, when I’m not ready to get out of bed quite yet, or when I’m sick, to have her snuggle up to me and giggle over the yip-yip-yip martians not knowing what a radio is or the two-headed monster freaking out over a telephone. Oh, and how could I have forgotten Sasha’s latest head-over-heels obsession: Mary Poppins. Who can blame her? I actually don’t mind having those songs stuck in my head all day. But ask me again in a few weeks.
There are other Things, of course, but those are at the top of my Toys That Regularly Save My Life list. What are yours? And for what age?
SubmissionsI'm looking for moms and dads to interview about surprising struggles in early parenthood. If you'd like me to consider your story, please email me.
We Can’t Stop Reading
We Can’t Stop Listening To
1. One Kiss Can Lead To Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost & Found
Disk 4, Track 6: "Peanut Duck"
2. Peter Pan
Track 4: I've Gotta Crow
3. Wild Flag
Track 1: Romance
Podcast Theme Music