I have been a dad for 3 years, 3 months and 9 days and in that time, I have become a master picker-upper of kid’s crap. If it’s for ages 3 and under, you best believe I have picked it up and carefully put it away, only to repeat this exercise 20 goddamn minutes later.
And it’s this never-ending churn of cleaning, picking up, maintaining, and reassembling that has inspired me to explore one of fatherhood’s most compelling questions: of all my kid’s crap, which is the crappiest to pick up?
10. Thomas and Friends Train Table
No toy requires more time and energy than this train table. I have spent more man hours tending to Thomas and Friends than I have raising actual children: a bridge collapsed, Thomas is stuck in a tunnel, Percy’s battery is dead, my nephew came over and disassembled each of the 150 pieces and tossed them in the subway, etc.
The only reason the train table isn’t higher on this list is because, relative to the other crap, it’s not a bad gig if you can get it. Within me still exists a tiny sliver of my 5 year old self who takes great pride in helping Thomas haul essential freight from Alpine Mountain to the townspeople down below. When things are running smoothly at the station, I am oddly satisfied. I have created this train town. I have given it life. I am a GOD.
9. Sippy Cups
We begin each day with two sippy cups: one for juice and one for water. On a perfect day, the girl will maintain both cups throughout. But, of course, there are no perfect days in parenthood so instead what happens is at 7:00AM sharp, the girl sticks her water cup under the couch, where it will remain for a week. Then the dog licks the juice cup and she demands a new one.
Then she leaves a cup upstairs after nap and I can’t retrieve it because the baby is crying and the grilled cheese will burn. Then for lunch she demands milk in her Big Girl cup. Then she immediately spills that milk all over the grilled cheese. Then I sprint downstairs, tie a noose, and hang myself from the rafters. And then by bedtime, there are enough half-filled sippy cups in this house to hydrate an entire preschool.
The problem with Play-Doh is you can play with it once before it crumbles like a stale cookie. After that, you’re doomed to hundreds of tiny Doh shards falling from the mother blob and onto the floor. From there, they will dry and turn to rock or be carried by your sock directly into your carpet where they will remain for all eternity.
7. Art Supplies
Remember in elementary when you’d open your crayon box for the first time? The crayons were all uniformly sized and pointed and organized by hue. Remember that smell? It was the start to a new year. You had new supplies. New clothes. New shoes! There was so much promise.
There is no promise, however, in the girl’s art box pictured above. It is no more than a hospice center for crayon nubs, uncapped markers, and palettes of water colors that are now just 10 shades of brown.
In fact, Craft Time usually lasts all of 7 minutes and ends up going just like this:
Minutes 1-3: The girl, frustrated with all the dried up markers and unsharpened colored pencils, whines for my help.
Minutes 3-6: I, frustrated with my involvement in what was supposed to be an independent activity, toss all the non-working supplies in the trash.
Minute 7: With both of us fed up, I turn on Daniel Tiger and park the girl on the couch so I can get some shit done.
6. Play Kitchen
Last Thursday, I was picking up after a tea party and as I returned the fake food to the pantry and fridge and stacked the dishes upside down in the drying rack, it dawned on me — I just spent 90 minutes doing this exact same shit in my own kitchen.
Now, the purpose of the play kitchen is to promote pretend play and stimulate the imagination. But let me tell you, that magic is lost on a grown-ass man who has just spent 8 hours sitting in a cubicle and another 2 slaving away in his own, actually functional kitchen.
5. Alphabet Mat
The alphabet mat is a staple of kid’s crap. Not only is it educational but it provides the, uh, essential shock absorption necessary for any play area.
I’ll admit the first time it was assembled, it was nice. The pieces fit tightly together. It was colorful and smelled fresh of whatever noxious injectants they’re using over in the Chinese labor camps.
But then this thing started falling apart. The squares started to bend and the letters fell out. Then the little pieces inside the O and the D and the P and the B popped out and before I knew it, the play room was covered in little P-holes and B-holes. Finally, the mat has found it’s rightful place, sitting unassembled in a corner of the basement.
I have fond childhood memories of bubbles, so it pains me to feature them on this list. But alas, these fancy modern day bubbles are nothing like bubbles from the 90s. That bubble blower you see above? It blows 5 bubbles per second, an entirely unnecessary rate of fire. It is the AR-15 of bubble machines.
And of course the girl can’t just pop or run through the bubbles, she needs to sit directly in the line of fire and absorb the onslaught point blank. Within seconds, every inch of hair, clothing, and skin is saturated in bubble concentrate.
I am then left with no choice but to bust out the hose and spray her down like a dusty Toyota. I see no other solution.
We use Dr. Brown bottles because they prevent gas and reflux. But in order to accomplish this, each bottle consists of exactly 600 tiny pieces, all of which must be soaked, washed and dried after every use.
Lately, I’ve been trying to take full ownership of all bottle washing. I figure since my wife carried the child for 9 months, then gave birth, and now nurses the child, I can take care of the bottles. It’s tough, but fair is fair.
The worst part about picking up puzzles is that you have to do the puzzle, making it the only job on this list where you’re required to complete an actual activity. And some puzzles are hard, man. I don’t have the patience to be challenged by child’s play.
The other problem, of course, is that pieces are scattered throughout this house: under the couch, in a random toy bin, or sucked into the black hole that exists somewhere on this property and devours ¼ of all the kid’s crap. When we move, the family that replaces us will find one missing piece to each of our 78 puzzles. To that family: you can keep them.
1. Ball Castle, Ball Pit, or Other Ball Containing Structure
As a general rule, the more pieces a toy has, the more of your life you spend picking it up. So, a toy with 100 pieces is inherently worse than a toy with 10. But when a toy is comprised of 100 balls, things descend into chaos.
Balls have rolled everywhere: on every level of the house, under every piece of furniture. The dog has brought balls outside. They’re his balls now.
Even the staircases usually contain a ball or two, which is not only annoying but downright hazardous. What if the dog trips? What if I trip? What if I’m carrying the baby or, God forbid, a beer? Domestic ball pits should be outlawed.
Bonus: Literal Crap (not pictured)
Poop! All new parents should expect plenty of poop. But the biggest surprise isn’t the quantity, which again is substantial, it’s the variety.
You experience poop you never knew existed! For the first few days, a newborn poops meconium, which is a mixture of amniotic fluid and other stuff and is unlike anything else here on earth. Then, if your baby is breastfed, you’ll enjoy a few months of Dijon mustard blowouts. When the baby transitions to table food, they’ll start pooping like a normal human. At first, it’s alarming to find real life human poop inside a diaper, but you get used to it.
And then you start potty training, where you’ll be treated to a collection of skids, sharts, smears, crumbs, and the surprise log on your Play-Doh ridden carpet.