Many years ago, before I was a parent, I became an aunt. And this first niece of mine, around age two, loved a show called Yo Gabba Gabba! that was devoted to music and dancing. Me, being the incredible, fun aunt that I am, bought her this Yo Gabba Gabba! dance mat, which encouraged kids to “boogie down.” I imagined her boogieing down to her heart’s content, smashing up all those little keys with her tiny toddler feet. She was going to love it.
It was soon after she opened it and, indeed, loved it, that I began receiving hate texts from my brother: “This is the most annoying toy ever created; just you wait until you have kids of your own,” he threatened. “You better believe you’re getting this back one day.”
That was nearly two years before my own son was born, and although he never actually made good on his threat (a choice he tells me he regrets), he did hold it over my head for many years, hinting before each of my son’s birthdays or other gift-giving events that maybe this year was the year that dance mat would find its new home.
His point, which I took to heart and abide by to this day, is that it is decidedly Not Cool to gift an obnoxiously loud toy to another person’s child without explicit permission. I was reminded of this recently by Reddit user u/RivetJoint08, who is also here to say this is not a cute nor funny thing to do:
I’m the father of a 2-year old boy. Totally cool, normal, run-of-the-mil 2-year old boy. His aunt gave him a quacking duck toy for his birthday a couple months ago, and was truly delighted that it would be an annoying, loud toy. The duck’s not too bad. Today, a friend of the family auntie gave our son a drum set for Christmas. He’s 2 years old. He has never expressed an interest in playing drums. This is annoying, it’s a waste of money, and it’s essentially asking me to take the piece of crap to Goodwill in a month. In both situations, the gift-giver is either a parent to toddlers or soon-to-be parent. Parents and friends of parents, if you want to buy a noisy gift like a drum set, check in with the parents.
My years of parenthood have taught me a simple fact about musical toys made for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers: They often only have one volume setting, and that setting is “Loud.” (If it has two settings, they are “Loud” and “Absolutely Goddamn Blasting.”) This, I have to believe, is because young children have short attention spans, and every toy wants to be the one that captures every possible bit of attention.
(This is also, I suspect, why some toys will randomly belt out a tune to an empty room, despite no one so much as looking in its direction; they cannot stand to be ignored.)
If you are not yet a parent, you might not have been aware of this fact. You are almost certainly underestimating the already heightened volume level of a household that contains one or more small children. But from now on, you should assume that any toy that makes noise does, in fact, make enough noise to rouse the dead. Especially, especially, if you are purchasing this toy online and have not heard it in person, back away from the shopping cart. Maybe choose a book instead — no, not the books with the buttons you push that make noise, stop it!
There is another genre of toys that you absolutely need permission to purchase if you want to continue to have a positive relationship with the parents, as u/RivetJoint08 indicates. And that genre is toys you can make music with.
Over the years, my son has been gifted a small (but mighty) drum set, a pair of actual maracas, and a set of bells that make my ears ring just thinking about them. (All from the same person — a person who is lucky I still speak to her.)
If you really want to get that cute little guitar shaped like a dog because 1) it is undeniably adorable, 2) you know the little kid is going to love it, and 3) you think the parents probably won’t mind, there’s a simple solution: Ask the parents first. Even if they really don’t mind, they’ll appreciate that you asked.