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Showing posts with label Do not buy. Show all posts

Review of the Babyletto Bookshelf: The Book Falls too Far from the Tree

Sometimes even the most savvy of parents (and clearly you are already savvy since you're reading this blog) get taken in by something that seems cute but really fails to perform even very basic functions. Today is the story of one of these times...
Cute, right?

When setting up the nursery for our first child, we had trouble finding ways to add splashes of fun and color in a room that was too small for much clutter but also sparse (given the amazing custom-installed closets eliminating the need for dressers). Knowing also that books would be a key feature in our little one's life, we were quickly entranced with the babyletto Spruce Tree Bookcase.

Given that the babyletto Hudson Crib came highly recommended by the Baby Bargains Book (and looked impressive sitting in the nursery) and that their bookcase was a third the price of similar alternatives, we were IN.

It's true, assembling furniture with a newborn around is not for the faint of heart, however...

Bookcase Bottoms Should Not Be Round

The bottom of the bookcase was not flat. LET ME BE CLEAR. It's not that it wasn't level, it was NOT FLAT. It was instead rounded, making it rather difficult to stand up or support the weight of, you know, books. I guess they assumed that it would be entirely supported by the brackets they provided but that seems awfully optimistic.
...Strike 1...

Bookcases Should be Made for Floors as They Are

Like many folks living in old buildings, or medium-aged buildings, our floors are also not quite level. Had the folks at babyletto been on top of this and provided some kind of leveling mechanism, the problem with the bottom of the bookcase being round would have been mitigated. Unfortunately, we were left with a situation where even IF we'd just had some weird manufacturing error, there was no way to set up the bookcase to safely hold things. Plenty of furniture around the house has shims for leveling, but something designed for cute appearance should do better.
...Strike 2...

An Aside: Power Tools and my Awesome Wife

Undeterred, we went to work, purchasing T-Nut Furniture Levelers, an extra large drill bit, and finding time between not sleeping and cleaning up from our constantly pooping newborn to do some light carpentry. And by "we," I really mean my wife. Anything requiring a screwdriver or wrench, I'm your guy. All other tools, and especially power tools, are trusted only to her. Here you will see her a mere three-weeks post C-section going to town to make this freaking bookcase stand.
Pretty awesome, eh?

Bookcases Should be Made for Walls as They Are

So, to their credit, babyletto did supply brackets to attach the bookcase to the wall (we're not huge on obsessive baby-proofing, but we're 100% on attaching furniture to the wall). The babyletto engineers (rightfully) assumed the bookcase will be pushed up directly against the wall as it has no back and the wall would be the only thing preventing books from falling down the back.

However, the included brackets were very short. As a result, the bookcase makes no ability to leave space for a baseboard. So out came the drill again as we affixed longer curtain-rod brackets to the back. Lest you think I'm being unfair, other furniture manufacturers, such as Ikea, provide a space for a baseboard (see below).

The Ikea Billy bookcase, with space in the back for a baseboard;
still letting the back of the bookcase rest against the wall
(though without leveling feet as well).

Babyletto failing to anticipate a common household architectural feature...
...Strike three...

Bookcases Should Hold Books

Undeterred (and because we didn't know there'd be a baseball theme to a write-up 3 years later), we did not stop at strike three. But at least we have a cute bookcase, right? 

Turns out, shelves at irregular angles are hard to use. Some books only fit in some places, some places are too small to fit most any book, Moreover, the shelves were pretty shallow.

Put all that together and books frequently fell off in droves.
...Strike, uh... Four?

Kallax, a Bookcase that Works as a Bookcase!

Note the tree decals allowed us to keep the
general theme
Once it was time to do some re-engineering of the room for baby #2, we'd finally had it with the Spruce. For the same floor space, we got the Kallax at IKEA. It offered significantly more ease to build, brackets to secure properly to the wall, and tons of additional storage (including room for toys!). It will also grow with the kids as their desires (and the room decor) change. 

We stuck with white (and added accented inner shelves for some color and to give the bookcase a back), but it comes in many colors. Once they're a bit older and have decorating opinions of their own, we can easily add/remove various decals for additional (flexible) fun.

So there you have it. babyletto makes a great crib (we even bought a second of the same for baby #2), the chair you see is theirs too, but the bookcase is a strong Do Not Buy.

And once again, it's Ikea with the win.

Toys! (A Dad's Call to Action this Holiday Season)

If you haven't been paying attention to the latest freak outs about Starbucks cups or the fact that many media outlets have already published their gift guides, you may not have realized that the holiday season is fast approaching. But let's get real, you've noticed and if you're a parent, you're possibly dreading it. The "holiday season" means, among other things, an onslaught of conversations about kids' toys. Which toys are hot this year? What toys do your kids want? Would you mind if your aunt Dora got them a drum set this year?

So before all that happens, let's do some real talk.

Many kids' toys are awful.

I don't just mean the mountains of cheap crap that exist to drain $4 at a time from the drugstore (or the seasonal way to phrase that - "be used as stocking stuffers"). I mean the ones that are unnecessarily loud, inane, and randomly ill-thought-out. As a dad who is about to be on the receiving end of this year's onslaught of generosity directed at his children, I beg any of you who buy toys for kids to read this. Together we can fight the awful in the modern toy industry and maybe preserve some parental sanity at the same time.

Why Many Kids' Toys are Awful

I can identify at least 3 major causes that allow this to continue unabated:
  1. 1. Kids have no taste.
  2. 2. Parents, grandparents, and well-meaning friends are easily seduced by things that seem cute (especially if they are licensed by a favorite team, show, etc.) but were really designed in about 5 minutes.
  3. 3. Some families live in houses with "playrooms" far from earshot of the parents who then don't have to listen to the awfulness generated by the worst offenders. This is not my family, nor is it many families.

Examples of Just What's Wrong

Random and Not Really Fun

Here is a book - St. Louis Cardinals 101 (My First Team-Board-Book). What family member of a St. Louisan wouldn't want to buy that for their new-parent relative? And that is exactly the problem. You'll note Amazon doesn't have a "look inside" option for this book - probably because if anyone really did look inside they would sell zero copies. If the book is for babies, there's nothing really to read to them (captioned photos and drawings of baseball equipment aren't much of a read-aloud winner). If it's for the next generation of kid fans whose earliest sports memories will be from the late 2010s, a black and white photo of a pitching star from the 1960's is pretty irrelevant to them.

I love baseball, I love books, and I love the Cardinals. This book somehow manages to fail on all those fronts.

Not Age Relevant

Many Exersaucers/Jumparoos are adorned with lots of ABC's and 123's which I guess are designed to make them look like "educational" toys. But even if a child who is exersaucer age could/should be learning letters and numbers (they should not), why just three of each? You may suggest "it's just decoration," but the song- and noise-generating buttons on the one we had specifically focus on these letters (and JUST these). It's dressed up to look educational but provides no useful lesson to a kid of this or any age.

Side rant - I think Fisher Price employs only one woman to record all the talking and singing for their toys. I assume this is so she can haunt the nightmares of parents forever.

Needless Noisemakers

My baby is carrying my cheese
up the stairs in the bag.
Toys like the Fun Years My Workbench are insane. The hammer plays recordings of "realistic sounds." I'm pretty sure my kid can generate her own realistic banging sound by... you know... banging it like it's a hammer.

But remember, kids have no taste. They like things that make noise for its own sake. Why encourage them?

The Fisher-Price Sing n' Learn Shopping Tote is another prime example of a random noise making toy. My daughter loves playing with the various toy foods it came with and has even brought the bag to the store with us so she can participate in grocery shopping- great! But, you see, there is a giant button. It plays songs about grocery shopping and saying "please and thank you." They're nice lessons, but why does the shopping bag need to do this at all? She was already using it perfectly as a bag! "So turn it off," you say. But she's a toddler who understands off switches to be her mortal enemy.

So far, insane and insipid, but not ill-willed...

The World's Most Annoying Toy

If there is a special circle of hell for annoying toy designers, then the person at Fisher Price who designed the Lil People Little Movers Airplane should be admitted first. It's not enough that it talks and sings every time you interact with it in any way (god forbid children enjoy 3 seconds making their OWN noises)... no, no, this plane sings the same 30 second song any time the plane's wheels move... at all. Seriously check out this Youtube video! That song in the background, that's the song. The whole thing. Every time the wheels move. Every... time... the... wheels... move...

Sadism is truly the only excuse for this behavior.

Are you Just a Luddite and/or Grump?

No...maybe? I'm not opposed to electronic toys on principle. I spent my childhood playing video games and own a smartwatch, which is obviously the least essential technology of our day (and I love my smartwatch).

That said, things that make noise just for the sake of making noise are idiotic. Things that make illogical noises are infuriating.

Electronics are great. Pretend play is great. But electronics sprinkled into toys at random often crowd out pretend play.

How to Pick Toys that Don't Suck

Here are a few things I recommend you ask yourself this holiday season when picking out a toy for the special munchkin in your life:

  1. 1. Is it fun? Can you imagine it staying fun for a week? A month?

Cute is a good start, but it isn't enough. A good toy gets used a LOT, and when you're space constrained, a toy that's fun in multiple ways at multiple ages (even just 6 months apart) is a good sanity-keeper. If it does only one thing, it gets forgotten and becomes junk when the one thing gets boring. If it lets a kid do many different things (or best yet, encourages kids to come up with many different things), it can stay in our living room toy-box for months.

  1. 2. If it's electronic, does it have a reason to be?

  • - Toy smartphone? Yes. (Electronic in real life, electronic as a toy - sweet!)
  • - Toy drill? Yes. (See above.)
  • - Toy hammer? No!!!

  1. 3. Do the functions/sounds/whatever have anything to do with the actual thing?

We have a Fisher-Price Learning Kitchen that makes kitchen noises (running water, etc.) when the kid interacts with it. This is good.
The toy airplane (yes, I'm back at the airplane),  makes announcements that make me think the designer read a book about airplanes without ever having been in one. Why does placing the flight attendant in his/her seat cause the plane to tell you to fasten your seat-belt and make engine noises? Why? WHY?

  1. 4. Does it have an off switch and/or volume control?

Sometimes the baby is sleeping so we need to use it quietly. Sometimes we want to encourage kids to play their own way. Sometimes the kid may want to use the toy for something not planned by the designer.

  1. 5. If it claims to be for pretend play, does it give the kid room to actually use their imagination?

    Doing my best Judge John Hodgman impression: this really is the crux of the issue.

    If the toy has a "correct" way to play dictated by the manufacturers, it's not very good for pretend play. (I'm looking at you Melissa & Doug Stacking Train - the cars have differently spaced posts so the blocks can only be assembled ONE way. This discourages kids from building what they want.)
If the airplane doesn't stop making noise long enough to let a kid make her own noises or plan out her own flight, then what's the point? (Yes, I know, the airplane again, but really... it's just the WORST.)


Heaven help us - we're talking about mom clothes again

Dr. Crusher - inspiration to moms everywhere.
My new baby spits up.. a lot... all the time.  As a result I find myself having to change clothes much more often than I did when my daughter was a baby.  So I thought I would try ordering some clothes from Milk Nursingware.

I am sorry to say I was very disappointed with the result.  Unlike the Momzelle breastfeeding friendly postpartum clothing I wrote about here, these are decisively not friendly to the postpartum figure.  The fabric is plastic-y and clingy in places you do not want to be clung to.  The nursing design is also much less convenient.  It's almost as though the designers saw a picture of a nursing shirt and put no more thought into the design after that.  All of the shirts I ordered are basically just 2 layer shirts instead of one shirt with a clever opening - thanks guys, I could have just figured out to wear two shirts myself.  I was looking for something with a bit more style.

Here I am pictured in the least bad shirt I received (I suppose it's more of a tunic).  I can only guess the design was inspired by Dr. Crusher's Star Trek uniform, complete with the diagonal cut and blue and black color scheme (it didn't quite look like it on the website).  Hilarious opportunities to dork out aside, ordering clothing from here is definitely not worth it in my opinion.

Just when I thought you couldn't, you disappoint me even more - Pottery Barn

 Before I was a parent I never gave much thought to which stores catered to us city folks and which targeted the more suburban crowd.  I shopped where I shopped (and frankly not much of anywhere) and never gave it much thought.  Then I had a baby.  Suddenly I had to pick and acquire and receive SO MUCH NEW STUFF.  For being so tiny, babies come with a ton of things, even if you are like me and really try and stick to the practical necessities.  
Adorable 3 piece $20 Carter's FULL costume
When we had our first child, we registered for the things we thought we needed.  The first lesson we learned is that when you have a baby suddenly everyone wants to get you things (this completely shocked me, but frankly since then when my friends have had babies I totally understood other people's impulses).  Some of those gift givers look at your registry and some give you whatever they feel like.  This is how we found ourselves in possession of our very first Pottery Barn Kids gift certificate and I found myself on my very first trip to that store.  It did not go well.  Everything in the store is demarcated by a hard gender line (because girls don't like Star Wars... or something).  Everything is huge.  Everything is expensive.  We looked and looked and ended up walking out with a toy and book, both of which are widely available in any store, because nothing that was specifically PBK in any way appealed to us or would fit into our apartment.

PBK's picture of a $40 half costume
 Fast forward 2 years, and we found ourselves in possession of yet another PBK certificate post the arrival of a second baby.  I looked and looked on their website (not even wanting to waste my time with a trip to the store).  Nothing appealed to me.  Then Halloween rolls around and I thought "A costume!! Sure it's frivolous, but what better way to spend some free money!"  So here's the thing.... When my daughter was a baby we got her a $20 Carter's ladybug costume for Halloween (pictured above, modeled by my daughter).  It consisted of 3 pieces - a 1 piece vest and hood, a shirt, and pants.  It was the pinnacle of cuteness.  
What I actually received from PBK - sigh

I looked at PBK's website and saw this picture of a fish costume.  Ok, so I didn't read very carefully to note that it only came with a hat and a "jumpsuit" (is this a common way to refer to a vest? just say vest damn it!).  But the picture of perfectly matched arms and legs, not to mention the hefty $40 price tag, implied to me that I was about to receive an actual FULL costume.  Instead all I got was this - a vest and a hat.

Pottery Barn, thy name is disappointment, with a hint of fraud.