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How many toys is the right number of toys?

Yesterday, a friend posted something online about Christmas presents - the suggestion that Christmas should involve four gifts:

- Something a kid wants;
- Something a kid needs;
- Something to wear;
- Something to read.

Apparently, this suggestion has been wandering around the internet for several years now.  But, always late to the party, I just found out about it.

Here were my four immediate reactions (in order of experience):

- That is exactly right.  I think four gifts is plenty.  We could focus more on spending time together - playing games and cooking delicious food and making each other laugh.  

- Would we be able to get extended family on board with this?

- What if I were the one being told to restrain myself in gift giving?  What if I could not buy my sister's kids a bunch of presents?  Wait.  My sister did tell me not to buy her kids any presents.  Didn't she?  Something about stickers.  Was I supposed to get my niece stickers and nothing else?  I am going to text her and ask if I can buy them each a book. 

- What if, after having opened their presents, the kids look around and wonder what else they can unwrap?  What if I have to look at them and say, "That's all.  Something you wanted, something you needed, something to wear, and something to read.  Isn't that great?!?  Really, really great? 
So great?  Please don't whine.  Please calm down.  Calm down.  If you do not stop yelling at me, I am going to take away your new toy and put it on a timeout!"

* * *

Several weeks ago, my husband put all of the boys' toys on a timeout in the basement.  I mean every single one of the toys.  He packed up all of the toy bins overflowing with board games, action figures, transformable vehicles, trains and train tracks, costumes, and building blocks.  He walked around our home and filled garbage bags with all of the detritus masquerading as the stuff of play.  And at 11 pm, he carried all of their toys to the basement for an indeterminate sentence.

It was the third night in a row that Bug and Squish had been so wild at bedtime that my husband and I ran out of reasonable consequences.

We had tried every other tactic.

We had threatened and then given consequences like no television in the morning for not staying in bed.

We had tried to carry them back to their beds saying nothing and ignoring them in some cheap knock off of a supernanny show I saw once years ago. 

By the thirty-eighth time my husband and I had returned the boys to their room, I was still convinced it could work.  As the boys were howling behind us in their room, climbing the bunk bed like a pair of characters from Where the Wild Things Are, I whispered to my exhausted husband, "This is working.  It will work - I promise!"  It did not work.  Not even a little bit.  Squish started calling me a robot and laughing hysterically.

I believe the saying you are looking for as you read that is - Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me thirty-eight times, shame on me.

On the third night of tomfoolery, my husband threatened to take away all of their toys.  Bug and Squish showed no fear and continued to act like bedtime hooligans.

I was afraid that taking away all of their toys would end up as some landmark in their memory of childhood.  That taking away all of their toys would be The Night Mom and Dad Went Crazy and Ruined Our Lives.  That they would grow up distrustful of authority figures, who might, at the slightest provocation, take away all of their tchotchkes.

The next morning, we explained to Bug and Squish that their toys were on a timeout, and that Bug and Squish could earn them back one night at a time by showing better behavior at bedtime.

They said okay.  No tears.  No What-Have-You-Done-To-Us.  Just okay.

Here we are several weeks later, and they have calmed down at bedtime.   They have asked for and earned back some of their toys, but probably about 90% of the toys are still gone and have not been requested. 

So it seems that the right number of toys is actually very, very small.  And I just might limit Christmas to the want, need, wear, read gift plan because I want the munchkins to remember that we love people and use things, not the other way around.



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