So you know those moms who get interviewed in fine publications like Domino magazine and Dwell and, you know, that HGTV magazine that’s kind of legit but not really? Well, they are always posing with their beautifully scruffy-in-a-hipster-way* kids in front of their perfectly-decorated-like-they-didn’t-decorate living rooms, and when asked about their kiddos’ bedrooms — which are SUSPICIOUSLY MINIMALIST and devoid of like, action figures and play doh stains — they throw out effortless one-liners like: “My kids don’t really need a lot of toys; after all, they’ll entertain themselves all day with a wooden spoon and an empty paper towel roll.”
Okay, so first of all yes, I read those magazines and no, I’m not ashamed. If I have to wear the same pair of stretchy maternity jeans for nine+ months, I need at least one fluffy break from reality that won’t make me feel bad about my butt (enter: room decor. Rooms never gain weight or have post-pregnancy tummies, am I right or am I right?) Anyway. Hey there, mom whose kiddos play with empty paper towel rolls all day long. I just had to chime in to agree wholeheartedly with EVERYTHING you just said. You’re so right. All I have to do is give my 3yo an old cardboard paper towel tube, and he will spend priceless, independent hours pretending it’s a rocket ship and letting me do all kinds of household chores and work on my novel while he happily zooms it in the air for quiet, hour-long stretches at a time.
Okay, sure. My kid is totally creative just like your kid and every other kid on the planet, since kids are ridiculously resourceful and innovative, that’s what makes them all awesome. But here’s what happens when I give him an empty paper towel roll to play with:
1) He turns it into a receptacle for Daddy’s vitamins (an activity requiring complete supervision on my part because even I won’t let my child play unattended with fish oil tablets).
2) He turns it into a tunnel for his trains (an activity requiring Mommy’s skilled hands to tape the tunnel onto his train track and cut it to make it fit since I don’t let him use scissors that actually cut anything).
3) He smushes it with his foot and runs off laughing (entertainment value in this scenario: less than one second. Mommy loses).
4) He puts it in the recycle bin where it goes because duh, it’s trash (again, Mommy loses, though we are perhaps one step closer to winning the war on climate change.)
5) He yells into it like a bullhorn (points gained for resourcefulness; points deducted for decibel)
6) He looks at me like I’m crazy and then asks me to help him build a mountain with his train tracks. (total parenting fail)
As you can see, that empty paper towel roll is not so much a great toy but a total liability, since most of what he wants to do with it requires me to help his visions come to life. Don’t get me wrong; I love playing with my kid. We play aaaaall day long. And sometimes we play aaaall weekend long. Paper towel tubes are great when Mommy and Daddy can sit down and tape them together to make a unicorn or a play structure for the backyard. But your kids, Paper-Towel-Holder-Mom, apparently play with those things for endless periods of time. ALONE.
So what I want to know is this: exactly how MANY minutes of independent play are you getting from this magical paper towel roll? Can you be specific? Because I’m guessing (and correct me if I’m wrong here) that if your life is anything like mine and you don’t have weirdly catatonic angel children or a live-in Mary Poppins, your kids have a lot of real toys, too. Possibly even tons of real toys. They may be hidden in perfectly organized bins in your kids’ perfectly organized California Closets and underneath those chic, kid-sized Eames chairs. But they’re there. Just maybe not in this magazine spread, because you want to make it seem like the only objects that come into contact with little Liam’s hypoallergenic skin are trucks made out of recycled hemp. But I know the singing stuffed animals from Grandma are hiding out in there, somewhere. You know. The ones you are dying to send to the trash heap, but your kiddo loves too much for you to go through with it without fear of a Level 15 meltdown (the kind that involves sobbing by both parties). I’m onto you Paper Towel Mom. ON. TO. YOU.
And I sympathize! Children can need up to 13 (read: THIRTEEN) hours of entertainment in a day. I don’t care how content sweet Jemima and Plum are to bang around kitchen utensils while you happily chop up a Pinterest recipe. The other 12 and a half hours of the day, they need either 1) toys to keep them occupied 2) outdoor activities including those mystical things called playgrounds to keep them exercised, and 3) gasp – shall I say it? – maybe even a little screen time so you can clean up all the Cheerios on the floor without crying and wishing your honey-filled hair and coffee-stained yoga pants were never born.
Oh, and you know what else? Kids are SMART. They know the paper towel tube is just a consolation prize for the non-toys they REALLY want to play with: knives, scissors, Daddy’s tool box, and of course, every kid’s favorite — THE OVEN. (Don’t even get me started on play “driving” the car while we sit in the parking lot. That thing is a button-loving child’s heaven).
The other evening, my kiddo fell asleep on the couch preternaturally early at 6pm, slept through the night… and woke up at 4:30am with the enthusiasm of a kid at Disney (World, not Land). Guess what occupied my energetic tot until Mommy could rouse herself out of bed at 6am? Not an f’ing paper towel roll. Curious George videos. On an ipad. And when I get featured in Dwell magazine, which is probably never but let’s imagine it happening for the sake of argument, I’m gonna make them put that part in all caps.
A mom whose kid plays with toys bought on Amazon. With money. And not play Monopoly money or Bitcoin baloney. Real, legal tender.
*My kid is actually legitimately scruffy because he refused his bath. If yours willingly lets you cut his/her fingernails without screaming that “IT TICKLES!!!” in a voice only dogs can understand, I don’t want to know about it.