Non-Toy Christmas gifts for toddlers

I know Christmas is still a wee while away but toys, and the way they seem to take over your house when you have kids is a subject dear to my heart.  I am not anti-toy.  There are many wonderful toys out there which become cherished possessions.  I myself still have my Belle doll (Snoopy’s sister, who had a dazzling array of outfits, complete with a hole for her tail) that my Mum saved for me.  Heck, I still love Belle.

What I hate is how many toys kids have today.  It’s crazy.  I am constantly fighting the flow of toys in my own house.  In fact, I swear they breed, because one day Sausage held up a toy that I’d never seen before in my life.  Despite being selective as to what toys my children have, I still find myself culling them every few months and donating full-sized bags to charity.

I think it’s really hard for the older generation in particular to understand that children today are drowning in stuff.  People my parents age were lucky if they had a train set and a doll.  Childhood is very different now.  Toys are readily available, often cheap (and nasty, so they break within seconds), and it’s just the done thing to give them as gifts for Christmas and birthdays.

Today many children have so many toys that their parents have to devise cunning rotation systems, so the toys aren’t all out at once.  More and more children have entire rooms dedicated to their toys.  The ‘rise of the playroom’ is an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed of late (When I was little, I knew one other kid who had a ‘rumpus room’ and boy was I jealous of them!).

If the toys are breeding at your house, and you want to stem the tide, here are some non-toy Christmas gift alternatives for the toddlers in your life.  And if you’re an aunt, uncle, grandparent or friend, you might find these ideas more appealing than braving The Warehouse toy section on Christmas Eve…

  1. pyjamas
  2. bathrobe
  3. beach towel
  4. sleeping bag and torch/flashlight
  5. trip to the movies
  6. trip to the ice cream parlour
  7. pony ride
  8. pay class fees for a term e.g. ballet, kindy gym
  9. clothes
  10. shoes
  11. a special one-on-one outing somewhere really cool
  12. garden tools/gloves/seeds
  13. birdhouse and binoculars
  14. photo album all about them
  15. quiet book
  16. tool box and real kid-sized tools
  17. art easel
  18. noticeboard to display their artwork
  19. duvet cover
  20. dress up clothes
  21. jewellery box
  22. hair ties and hair clips
  23. poster/art for their bedroom wall
  24. magnifying glass
  25. their very own box of chocolates(!)
  26. calendar
  27. sunhat
  28. swimsuit
  29. tent
  30. lunchbox
  31. piggy bank
  32. wallet or purse with a few coins in it
  33. wooden name sign for their bedroom door
  34. toddler couch (my kids have one that was inexpensive which folds out into a bed)
  35. cutlery set/plate/bowl
  36. drink bottle
  37. hairbrush and hair ties
  38. suitcase/travel bag (ones they can sit on are great)
  39. clock (weary parents love gro clocks)
  40. first aid kit
  41. And my favourite, books


This Christmas give gifts that last, that children really need, and that get them out and about exploring the world.




The journey

I was recently struck by a personal memory my Minister shared.  She reminisced about family holidays which involved a long car ride to their destination.  ‘For my parents, it was all about the destination, not the journey’, she said.  They only ever stopped to go to the loo, and occasionally for an ice cream.  Her parents’ focus was the end result – reaching their holiday spot.

This focus on the destination is how I tend to live my life.  I am not a live-in-the-moment person by nature.  I tend to live in the future, my mental to-do list is never far away and I often find myself playing half-heartedly with my tots while part of my brain is thinking ‘I must get on with the washing’.  I have a rich inner life, which easily escapes the everyday.  Even before kids, I knew this ‘future-thinking’ was a trait of mine, and I confess to bouts of trying mindfulness and mediation which never last long.

My children are the greatest teachers that I’ve ever had.  Since their arrival my patience muscle is flexed on a daily basis – sometimes it is greatly strained – and I, like them, have taken wobbly baby steps towards learning to live in the present.  For toddlers, life is all about the journey.

My son Chip keeps a running commentary of all the trucks, tractors and other assorted machinery he sees when we’re out and about.  My daughter Sausage flits from flower to flower like a over-sized, curly haired hummingbird, and can often be seen gasping in delight over bits of rubbish, spiders, and odd-shaped rocks that she spies on walks.  Sausage especially is not a child who can be hurried.  She has a random, buoyant nature, and being told to hurry along only makes her dig her heels in (I cannot imagine where she gets this from…).

I used to be a super-organised person with an unbearable feeling around being late.  But no more.  Besides work and the odd appointment, there is rarely anywhere that I HAVE to be.  Now when we are running late, more often that not I say ‘so friggin’ what?  Relax Angela, relax.’  Because it almost never matters if we are late.  When you have kids, people understand that getting them out the door on time is akin to a military operation rivalling D-Day.  They understand that just as you turned the key in the door, one of your kids decided it was time for poomageddon or to be struck down by a vomiting bug.  The ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ now take up less space in my head.  And I realise that they are almost always self-imposed weapons of flagellation which can quite frankly, go and get stuffed.

Today I only had vague ideas about what to do with Chip.  We dropped his sister off at her beloved kindy.  ‘Go to lake?’ asked Chip.  ‘Sure buddy’, I replied, feeling magnanimous.  D and I had recently taken our tots for a walk/ride around Virginia Lake, which had been an exercise in frustration as we practically had to drag them around, and D and I spent more time carrying their bikes than they spent on them.  This was fresh in my mind.

Today I’m going to focus on the journey, I thought.  It’s not about walking around the lake.  If we don’t get all the way, it doesn’t matter one iota.  (Also, hands up if you love the word iota?  I need to use it more.)

Because there was nowhere we needed to be, Chip and I ending up spending four hours at the lake.


Virginia Lake

We went to the lake playground.  We went to the bird aviary and said hello to the cockatoos.  We went to the cafe.  Chip played hard at the cafe playground.

After a pit stop at the Winter Gardens, we slowly, slowly, slowly went around the lake, saying hi to the ducks and geese.

I chatted with the man cutting grass on the bank, while Chip looked enviously at his cool leaf-blower.  We examined flowers and trees.

We sat on the little pier, and Chip fed me grapes.


I like toddler life.


Bye Bye Baby, Baby Goodbye…

Just like that, I am now the mother of two toddlers.

While we were in Auckland Chip started walking.  He is delighting in his new-found freedom and wobbles off as fast as his little legs will go.

Bipedal is definitely the way to go

Bipedal is definitely the way to go (excuse how blurry this is, he’s so fast!)


While my children will always be my babies, even when they are old and grey, it is with only a teensy bit of sadness that I kiss babyhood goodbye.  Our play gyms, bouncers and slings are officially retired, and I just gave away the last of Chip’s baby clothes to be worn by the soon-to-be-born baby of a dear friend.

I have several friends who are either due to give birth soon, or who have recently had baby number two or three, and all I can think is ‘I am so glad I’m not in your shoes!’  That first year with a new baby is so intense, even if it’s your second, fourth or tenth.

I know many parents struggle to know when their family is ‘done’ and regret not having another child, or who suffer the pain of secondary infertility.  D and I have never hankered after a large family and both have a very solid sense of being done.  I have a new appreciation for just how breathtaking and clever and fun and mucky and miraculous babies are, but I do not hanker after any more.  Any such thoughts are deftly quashed by the thought of having another dreadful pregnancy like I had with Chip – only this time with two children in tow.  No, I could not go through that again.

I’m enjoying having children who (mostly) sleep through the night.  I love the utterly random conversations I have with my almost three year-old girl, and the ‘what the heck is that’ pointing from my 13 month-old boy who just wants to know what absolutely everything is called – and preferably put it in his mouth.

Life is still dictated somewhat by the midday nap, but at least there is only one nap to worry about.  While my brain has years of sleep to catch up on, it definitely seems to be more functional these days…unlike the baby sleep-deprived brain when I forgot how to spell my last name.  I like having more capacity for other things in my life, and being able to have conversations with D that don’t involve monitoring the bowel movements of our baby, or desperately trying to get the baby to stop crying.

So bye bye baby, hello toddlerhood.  I hear ‘threenagers’ are really, um, interesting.