Thoughts While Putting Away My Children’s Toys

I recently read Maura Quint’s “The Entirety of My Thoughts As I Eat My Son’s Mac and Cheese Dinner,” cleaned my children’s bedrooms and closet-size playroom, and was then inspired to write this:

Didn’t 4 year olds work in fields 150 years ago? Probably not. That actually sounds awful. But still, mine should at least be capable of putting Chutes and Ladders back in its box, right?

I hate Chutes and Ladders.

They have too many toys. I should donate half of them. Most of them. All but three of them.

Why are there candy wrappers stuffed in the Lego bin?

I am not their maid. A maid would be so nice. And a laundress. And a chef. And a personal trainer. Definitely a personal trainer.

I wonder how many calories I’m burning shoving stuff in bins. I should get one of those Fitbits. Or actually go to the Y. They can play with toys in Child Watch. Toys I don’t have to deal with. I wonder if I can find a place to hide and read in the Y while they play in Child Watch.

Another capless marker, wasted. That’s it. No more markers. Ever.


Huh. A Barbie shoe. I thought surely I had vacuumed all those up by now.

Why are there 76 pieces of paper with one line drawn on each of them?

I’m going to have to hide these in the recycling bin to avoid the apocalypse that will surely happen if they find out I’ve recycled their one-line masterpieces.

Maybe my children are hoarders. Maybe there’s a mental issue here. I should email the pediatrician.

I will never allow their rooms to get this messy again. Maybe I should try the Saturday Box. Or the Marble Jar. Or the Popsicle Stick Jar. Or the Reward Chart. I should check Pinterest.

Or maybe I just get rid of it all. I mean, seriously, they’re downstairs playing with empty boxes. Empty. Boxes.

Isn’t it monks who find joy in everyday tasks? I don’t think monks have children, though. They’ve never had to deal with 8,000 .$97 Matchbox cars. Or Rainbow Loom bands. Or Perler Beads. I hate Perler Beads.

I wonder what my friends are doing at work. I bet they’re wearing heels. I bet they had a salad with some kind of candied nut on it for lunch. I bet, after a meeting, everyone picks up their papers and pens and tablets and coffee mugs and puts them away, without any reminders or timers or let’s-see-how-fast-we-can-get-this-done games.

All these crayons are broken and worn down to little nubs. They really need some new crayons. I should get some the next time I’m at the store. And markers. And glue sticks.

At least we’re out of the finger paint stage. Those were some colossal messes.

Gosh, I miss those finger paint pictures on the fridge. Why do they have to grow up so fast?

[SILENT CURSING. A LOT OF IT.] I will not miss the Legos on my bare feet. I don’t care how crazy creative they get with their creations I will not miss those pain-inducing little pieces of plastic.

Why do people even buy Legos anymore? It’s not like they break. Or get old. Where are all the Legos people have been building with since, when were Legos invented, the 70s?

Probably in the trash. Probably parents stepping on them and throwing them, one by one, in the trash.

I actually love that they got Legos for Christmas. They play with them for so long. So much silence for such long periods of time. I should send the Lego company a thank-you note.

Our house cannot handle any more toys. Can I tell people not to buy toys? Is that rude? Is that too minimalist? Is that too Grinch-like? My children do not need any more toys.

We should become minimalists.

Well, minimalists with a few toys. Five each.

But then there’s March. I hate March. How many toys will it take to entertain them indoors in March?

I need more bins.

“And this mess is so big
And so deep and so tall,
We cannot pick it up.
There is no way at all!” —Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

Paper Dolls

As I imagine most children do, Sophie goes through phases favoring toys. She fell in love with paper dolls awhile ago, and lately, she’s back in love. Perhaps now it’s a deeper love given that she’s able to more easily cut out hats, dresses, cloaks and accessories. Initially, though, the cutting part was hard. And that’s where my dear friend Linda came in.

Linda found some vintage-style paper dolls online (here, here and here), which you can print and cut out. She then spent her evenings cutting, creating so many sets for Sophie. She named all the dolls and placed each one in an envelope, along with corresponding outfits.

Sophie loved them.

And recently, she’s loving them again.

I’ll walk into Sophie’s room and find her bed covered with the dolls, their matching wardrobes next to them. She’ll spend hours playing with them.

(Thank you, Linda.)

“When it was time to go home Peggy said, ‘Oh, no! I want to stay and play with Betsy for another couple of whiles!'” —from “Cover Girl Meets Besty McCall, McCall’s magazine, May 1951


“Play is the work of the child.” – Maria Montessori

James & Owen’s “Concert”

About 10 minutes ago Owen and James ran downstairs and started shouting something about a concert.

“What?” I asked.

“We have a concert for you!” they said. “Come upstairs to our concert!”

They were so excited.

And so was I. How imaginative! They did it all on their own! And I had heard no screaming for the 30 minutes prior so they did it together happily, nicely—no fighting at all.

We got to their bedroom door. It was closed, with a little tag hanging from the doorway.

How cute, I thought.

With great fanfare, they opened their door to …


“Ta da!” they said.

“It’s everything in your room in a big pile,” I said.

“Yes!” they screamed. “It’s our concert!”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “When does the concert start?”

“This is it! This is our concert! OUR CONCERT!”

“So this big pile of stuff in your room is the concert?”


“Are you going to clean the concert up?”



“When we’re done with the concert.”

“Is the concert over now?”


I left.

I still don’t understand.

And instead of hearing the concert being cleaned up, I hear things being added to the concert.

“Owen! There’s another blanket! Put it in the concert!”

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

My Eyes

I recently had a routine physical examination with Dr. Owen Uhl. As he was peering into my (dark brown) eyes with his toy ophthalmoscope he said, “Hmm. They’re a little bit chocolate-y. But that’s OK.”

“In nothing do men more nearly approach the gods than in giving health to men.” —Cicero

Our (Tiny) Playroom

In addition to the three bedrooms and one bath on our second floor there is a small, maybe 8×10 room that the previous owners used as a walk-in closet. We live in a foursquare, which means our first floor consists of an entry, living room, dining room and kitchen. There’s no big finished basement. The attic is large and tall and will make a beautiful finished space someday, although Andy keeps reminding me it will be a many-years-from-now someday. In short, we don’t have a lot of extra space for toys. So we decided to turn what was a walk-in closet into a playroom. The kids still have toys in their bedrooms. Baskets of toys reside in the entry. And living room. The play kitchen is in the dining room. And there’s always a block or car under foot in the kitchen. But this room, although small, holds many—if not most—of the toys (particularly, the craft supplies). It serves as a creative space, a space I don’t mind getting messy. And often it’s a quiet space for Sophie to retreat to, when she’s tired of the boys “decorating” her artwork.

The shelving unit is the ever-popular EXPEDIT from Ikea. For storage we purchased eight DRONA Boxes, also from Ikea. They’re fine, given the price, but I often wish the unit was filled with prettier baskets.

My mom and I made the garland, inspired by The Purl Bee, for Sophie’s nursery when she was baby. You can see a sort-of tutorial here.

The artwork is from Trafalgar’s Square by Kit Chase. I ordered them from Zulily but you can also purchase them from her Etsy site here.

We were going to paint an entire wall with black chalkboard paint … until Andy found some old slate roof tiles in our attic. I fell in love with them, and insisted we use them as chalkboards instead.

The eraser, from my mom’s teaching days, reminds me so much of elementary school, clapping those green-covered erasers together, washing down the black chalkboards with a bucket and sponge.

This artwork, courtesy of the kids, hangs on Ikea’s DEKA curtain wire.

This lovely little table was a gift to Sophie several years ago, from Grandma and Paw Paw.

I love Land of Nod’s Art Caddy. Every time I order something from Land of Nod I tend to throw one of these in my online shopping basket. We now own three, and each is used every day.

Some of the storage isn’t quite adequate, but works. Plastic shoe boxes from Target hold shells and snake skin, poofy balls, glittery ribbon and plastic beads. A wooden crate from a Melissa & Doug musical instrument kit holds all the Play-Doh. And dress-up clothes reside in a (very) large basket on the floor.

Two paper lanterns hang in the room. They were a gift from my friend Linda, who found them in a “free” pile at work.

This little handmade wooden toy, which I purchased at Tamarack, often resides on the window sill.

This guy is a handmade toy from Switzerland. My mother-in-law purchased it for me years ago while on a business trip. I miscarried, and the toy sat on our piano in an otherwise toy-empty house for a long time. And now I smile every time I look at it and its surroundings.

Perhaps my favorite decorative element of the playroom, though, is this. Sophie drew it and hung it up on the wall with a red glitter heart sticker. It’s a picture of Sophie and Andy, and when Andy asked her about it she said it was called “Between Friends.”

The playroom small. And still needs (a little) work. But it’s loved and played in every day. Which, I suppose, is the very definition, and purpose, of a playroom.

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson


The Things We Sleep With

I remember the stuffed animals and dolls I slept with, when I was little. I remember making caves for them with my blanket and legs. I remember feeling guilty about who slept next to me, who did not, and who fell to the floor in the middle of the night. My grandma once told me a story about my aunt taking her new shoes to bed with her. One of my favorite scenes in the movie “A Christmas Story” is when both brothers go to bed with their Christmas treasures. Since Sophie was a baby she has gone to bed not only with stuffed animals, but with the bedtime stories she chooses for the night. The boys have begun insisting on sleeping with their favorite car of the day. And James must have the quilt Nini made for him when he was in the NICU. And Owen must have his favorite book, “Goodnight Moon.” There is a comfort in sleeping with something, someone, you love.

The day after Sophie turned 4 she saw a play—”Rapunzel”—at the Taft Theater in Cincinnati with her Grandma and Paw Paw (a birthday gift from her parents). She loved it. She still talks about the actors who ran off the stage, with the same enthusiasm and awe as I retold the story of the children running out from underneath Mother Gigogne’s skirt in “The Nutcracker,”—a play I saw with my mom and grandma when I was about Sophie’s age. I still have the souvenir playbook from the ballet—I put it out every Christmas. At the end of “Rapunzel,” Grandma bought Sophie a tiara.

She loves it.


‘There is a latent fairy in all women, but look how carefully we have to secrete her in order to be taken seriously. And fairies come in all shapes, colors, sizes and types, they don’t have to be fluffy. They can be demanding and furious if hey like. They do, however, have to wear a tiara. That much is compulsory.” —Dawn French

Finally, Snow


It took me a good 30 minutes to get all three kids dressed to go outside for just a small bit of snow. The boys had never worn boots before, and it was a struggle to shove their feet into them. (I was so thankful for the boots though, hand-me-downs—as are many of the things they wear—from our good friends Rebecca and Chris’s son, Evan.) And while I was busy putting something on James, Owen would take off whatever it was I had just put on him—and vice versa. And the entire time Sophie was saying “let’s go! let’s go!”

We finally went. Here Sophie’s wearing the winter hat Nini and Pop Pop found for her in Italy.


The gloves—oh, the gloves. They, too, were a gift from Italy, from Nini and Pop Pop. As I was helping Sophie put them on, I realized she had never worn gloves before—only mittens. So this activity took quite some time, too. She’d put two or three fingers in one finger slot, pull them out to separate and in doing so, put two fingers in another slot. But now, she’s a pro.









I couldn’t find James’s mittens so yes, he’s wear Sophie’s old ones.


Owen refused mittens.

“The Eskimos had 52 names for snow because it was important to them; there ought to be as many for love.” —Margaret Atwood