Nobody told me that once I had a child, I'd be held hostage by a deranged assortment of countless toys, each with their own maddening varieties of terrible features. Some are too loud, others too sticky, some are depressing and still others are even potentially dangerous.
After chatting with more than 100 mothers in an online parenting group, I learned that I was not alone, and that many other parents had come to loathe some of the same playthings I had. To help you avoid falling into the same traps, here is a list of 10 toys that consistently came up as some of the most infuriating, ranked from most to least annoying. These, we all agreed, could distress even the most unflappable parents.
1. Talking Baby Walker: Unclear, frenetic identity
The baby push walker I have - a multicolored Frankenstein that somewhat resembles a walker for seniors - talks, sings and shouts out a barrage of cloying songs and sounds that will occupy space in my brain until the day I die. "Welcome to our learning farm, we have lots to show you!" When returning the play phone to its cradle, it shrieks, "Thanks fuh cawlin!" in what I can only describe as an unhinged, old school New York accent. This walker has everything, and not in a good way. "It makes no sense," said Maggie Grady Wood, a mum from Tennessee. "A barn? A keyboard? A phone? What are you?" Another mother, Emily Hutson, an Oregon-based marketing director, agreed. "Also, it's a complete failure as a walker," she added. (Experts don't recommend certain kinds of infant walkers because they can be unsafe and may delay motor development.) Additional perks: It's huge and doesn't fold.
2. Slime: Destructive
Every toy company seems to have their own branded blob of slime, but some go above and beyond by selling it in a 1.3kg tub. Why? More than a kilo of slime is too much slime. My son's favorite stuffy owl sat in a puddle of it overnight, and is now permanently disfigured. "I hate slime so much, and it's in every 'surprise' toy and now it's also all over my couch," said Anna Lane, a comedy writer in Los Angeles. "It got all over the carpet and I banned it," said Diana Metzger, a mum in Maryland. You can have nice things or you can have slime, but you can't have both.
3. Ant Farm: Depressing
I considered getting my son an ant farm, until Amanda Wallace, a mum of two in San Diego, shared her cautionary tale: "I thought it'd be fun to watch their little society build," she said. "Instead, it became a daily reminder of the Sisyphean futility of life as they slowly buried their dead until there was one ant left wandering a horrorscape alone, wishing for the sweet embrace of death to take her, too." Hard pass.
4. Play putty: Destroyer of nice things
Before I had a son, I gifted my niece a rainbow rack of Play-Doh. "Gee, thanks," my sister said, sarcastically. I was confused. What kind of monster dislikes Play-Doh? Today, I'm that monster, infuriated by the dried crumbs that are encrusted onto the expensive things I've worked hard for. And the manufacturer knows it - their website offers a long list of clean up tips.
5. Glitter Shaker: Eternal
Those tiny, loose, hell flakes get stuck in floor cracks, between eyelashes, on fabric and, worst of all, in my photographer husband's gear, so we've banished the stuff from our lives. One could theorize that glitter has been annoying parents since the beginning of time: Humans have been drawn to shiny things since the prehistoric period, when they would incorporate naturally lustrous substances like luminous gold, mirrored mica and beetle wing covers into artwork, textiles and more. Today, most glitter is made from plastic film, which can take about 1,000 years to biodegrade. "As an art teacher, I avoid glitter," said Kelly Jones, who is also a mum and lives in Los Angeles. The sentiment is spreading; it's used in my child's school projects less and less. Good riddance.
6. Talking Puzzle: Creepy
These educational puzzles, which are supposed to make the sounds of the objects you place into the board, often have a life of their own. A couple of years ago, my son's pet sounds puzzle - which incessantly squeaks, croaks and whinnies, even when it's not being used - scared some of my overnight houseguests so much that they thought that ghosts were playing with puzzles all night long. "Ours ribbited for 48 hours straight," said Kendall Aliment Ostrow, a mum of two in Westchester County, New York. "We called our pest control company because we thought there was a frog trapped in our sunroom." Frances Garcia, who works in marketing, agreed. "It randomly makes sounds you can't turn off or turn down," she said. Anne Altman, a mum in New York City, found a solution. "We murdered a few of those puzzles by throwing them in the tub," she said. "They stopped talking."
7. Rock Tumbler: Loud
For "rockhounds" who like to polish found stones and also happen to love the sound of a clothes dryer full of broken ceramics, this "toy" is for you. For around Dh185, you can get a gadget resembling a concrete mixer that's loud for days on end. "It needs to be plugged in constantly and if you live in a small apartment, the noise will drive you insane," said Raquel D'Apice, a writer in New Jersey. I recommend something a little quieter, like a trumpet.
8. Kinetic Sand: Slip hazard
Regular sand coated with silicone oil becomes kinetic sand: a sensory toy that's fun to hold and touch. But when we let my 4-year-old son play with it in a plastic bin in our living room, it got everywhere and turned the hardwood floor into a slick, in-home skating rink. Even after washing it up, I unexpectedly rocketed across my living room while walking in stockinged feet, slipping and falling on my rear, which hurt more than it ever did as a kid.
9. Harmonica: Irritating saliva spreader
To purchase one is self-torture. "They're impossible to break and they throw spit everywhere," said Amie Arbuckle, a writer who lives in Hawaii. Equally bad are plastic recorders, kazoos and slide whistles. Though instruments are amazing for a developing child's brain, they're equally horrendous for a tired parent's. These peace-obstructing devices will be played only during an important phone call or the worst headache of your life, and at no other time.
10. Furby: Relentless
I thought my neighbour and I were friends, but then she handed her daughter's Furby down to my son. It talks nonstop in a high-pitched, head-splitting voice; it screams, flatulates and has no "off" switch. Of course, my son loves it and it must go everywhere with us. The best part? She gave us two.