They are the gifts that other people love to give your kids. They are often loud, sometimes messy, almost always require a huge chunk of your time and most of all, they are annoying.
I have compiled the ten worst gifts that have been given to my children, in no particular order. Please think twice before you give these toys to other people's kids this Christmas, your friends and family will thank you.
1. Kids' joke books
Let me just start by saying the words "kids" and "jokes" should never be seen together in a title. Largely because kids telling jokes generally aren't funny. For starters, most are too complex for their little minds, so you spend more time explaining the joke than it took to listen to it.
My daughter once brought home from the library "1001 Cool Jokes". It was written by Don Spencer, the same Don Spencer of Play School fame and the former father-in-law of Russell Crowe. This book could explain why Rusty always looked so angry in paparazzi photos. Maybe his sons had spent the morning reading out jokes from grandpa's book.
Which brings me to the special kind of hell that is the Knock Knock joke book. "Knock Knock." "Who's there?" "My old will to live."
2. Musical instruments
We have all heard the story of the good-hearted relative who has bought a musical instrument for a child. Drum kits, guitars, the humble recorder. When played by a child with no musical talent they are the equivalent of finger nails down a blackboard.
And don't get me started on those "pretend" musical instruments from toy stores. The keyboard that has six songs on rotation springs to mind. Add a microphone with no volume switch and you pretty much have yourself an all-day migraine.
3. Anything that makes a lot of noise
Someone once bought my son one of those voice changers from a toy store. The one that turns your toddler's slightly annoying voice into a much louder, more annoying, kind of satanic version of their voice. This was probably the gift out of all the crap gifts that puzzled me the most because I just didn't get why someone would design something so useless. And SO LOUD.
Then there was the Fisher Price corn popper my Mum bought my son "because you had one and you loved it". After two days, I had an explanation for my mother's excessive drinking when I was young.
Speaking of puzzling, what is the deal with giving puzzles to children, especially ones so clearly not age-appropriate for the intended child?
My son got a 1000-piece puzzle of Australia when he was nine. He took one look at the box and refused to open it. However, his younger sister decided she would open it then wanted someone to help her do it. Which is how I spent the Christmas holidays with a sore neck, bad back and quickly diminishing patience. She eventually gave up and it sat on the floor gathering dust until we moved house. After which she promptly found the box. It then got a new home on our dining table and when guests came over we ate dinner from our laps.
5. Walkie talkies
Walkie talkies would be great if they just did the two things the name suggests: allowed you to talk while walking. But despite trying out about ten different models, they never seemed to work. All you would get is static and rising blood pressure. Add trying to explain to a small child for the hundredth time the concept of "press to speak and release to listen" and you have a recipe for disaster.
The only time my kids and I ever managed to communicate using walkie talkies was when we had inadvertently wandered a metre apart while trying to pick up something other than static. And the batteries!! For something that doesn't work they sure chew up a lot of power.
Which brings me on to …
6. Anything requiring batteries
My husband and I once worked out we had spent close to $1000 replacing batteries in toys. There was a period in our lives where one of us could have given up work just so we could spend our days replacing batteries, except we needed the money from work to pay for the batteries. And don't bother buying the cheap ones to save money. By the time you had fastened the last screw into the battery compartment those new batteries were running low.
Eventually we gave up putting them in some things and made the sounds ourselves. I can still perform a mean sausage sizzling in the pan of a toy kitchen.
7. Items that require assembly
If I wanted to spend my afternoon assembling something I would have made a trip to Ikea. Another great tip is not to buy something for someone else's child if it is bigger than the child it is intended for, unless you plan to keep the said thing at your house. I am talking dolls houses, toy kitchens, doll changes tables (yes really), that not only need assembling but also take up a lot of room in what was once your formal living area (or only living area).
8. Anything dangerous or that is going to end up costing money
This might seem like a no-brainer but my son was once given some blaster balls, which caused real sparks when thrown and burnt the skin when touched straight after. Good meaning relatives can also be relied on to buy bikes or skateboards but none of the accompanying helmets, knee pads, wrist pads etc that are required so said child does not break something. $120 later your child might finally be ready to try out the skateboard.
Which brings me on to …
9. Surprise gifts that really shouldn't be surprises
Apart from skateboards, this could include anything alive. I am looking at you kittens, puppies, rabbits, guinea pigs and fish. These can also go under things that will end up costing you money. My son was once given a fish tank for his birthday, which was great, because he wanted a pet and it was free. So after I spent $200 on what I needed for the fish tank and some fish, I then spent another $200 and what was left of my sanity attempting to keep the water at the right Ph. level and replacing the fish every time they died. Eventually we gave up, but not before my children got to learn about life and death. Okay, mainly death.
Speaking of death, nothing quite makes me pray for a quick and merciful end more than …
I hate craft. I should know, because since I've had kids I've done a lot of it. Now some of this is my fault as I went through a stage of buying craft for my own kids under the mistaken belief it would keep them occupied and give me a little time to myself.
Oh how I laugh when I look back at the day I bought the knitting dolly, the loom, the tapestry set for beginners, the knitting needles, etc., etc. and thought about all the free time I would have. Instead I spent my days attempting to cross stitch a cat's face, or make a pom-pom. Even those mosaic by numbers sets proved too difficult for my kids, so I found myself adhering tiny sparkles to a Chihuahua's dress – yes, there was a Chihuahua in a dress.