The Toys Are Alive!

As anyone who has cared for a toddler will tell you, it’s hard to get young kids to stay in one place for an extended period of time. They have what my brother calls “Ooh Shiny Syndrome,” which means they get distracted by everything and they want to investigate every distraction. That’s why, when we’re able to sit and eat together, we try to get rid of all of the “shiny objects.” The television stays off, there are no devices at the table and we try to just enjoy each other’s company. We try to eat together every night and I’d say we’re successful at least five or six nights per week (my work schedule makes eating together difficult sometimes, but we can usually work it out).

This past weekend, Trudy, Eitan and I were eating dinner together and the scene was just as I described it. The television was off, the toys and phones were away and we were just sitting and spending time together. Then, suddenly, Cookie Monster’s voice interrupted our conversation:

“Cowabunga!!!”

Eitan, like many toddlers today, has a number of toys that make noise. A Little People carnival, a V-Tech turtle that teaches letters, numbers and colors and a gigantic Fisher Price fire truck are just a few examples. They’re basically all the same; you press a button and the toy plays music or talks to you or plays some other sort of sound effect. The Cookie Monster toy is slightly different because it relies on sensors to trigger the noises, rather than actual buttons (the Rock ‘N Roll Elmo, is very similar in that regard). You put cookies in Cookie Monster’s mouth, his mouth “chews” them and he swallows the cookies. They slide through his “throat” and end up in the red backpack he’s wearing so that you can take them out and feed him again. If you stop playing with him for a minute or two, he prompts you to play more. He suggests, “Me think there may be more cookies in me backpack.” Or, if your toddler misses the subtlety, Cookie gets more direct: “Me want cookie, please!” Leave him alone for a few minutes and he stays quiet. But then, last weekend…

“Cowabunga!!!”

We were at the table and Cookie Monster was clear on the other side of the room. No one had touched him, and certainly no one had fed him a cookie, which is usually what prompts that exclamation. Eitan, of course, immediately got out of his chair and went to play. We were able to bring him back by bringing Cookie Monster to sit with us too (we also pretended to feed Cookie Monster spaghetti and meatballs to get Eitan to eat more), but it got me thinking. I couldn’t imagine that we were the first people to experience their kid’s toys spontaneously coming to life. In fact, I’d heard a number of stories about the Baby Alive that Trudy had when she was young. She and her parents kept the toy exiled upstairs because its voice was so creepy that they couldn’t stand to listen to it on a regular basis, and they still heard the baby’s “voice” calling to them. So I put out some feelers on social media and gathered some anecdotes about other parents’ and caregivers’ experiences with their kids’ toys coming to life:

‪Creed Anthony, Tales From The Poop Deck: The creepiest was an Easter gift that we got and it made a road trip with us. We traveled at night and right when my daughter was about to fall asleep, we hit a nice bump on the freeway and the duck started to quack. Needless to say, she cracked up and we did too. Eventually she fell asleep, as did my wife, and that deranged duck quacked from Indy to Cleveland. It was like the beginning of a horror story.

Mike Heenan, At Home Dad Matters: There was a Melissa & Doug Sound Puzzle left in a tent outside our bedroom window. We heard “N is for nails…” all night long until we figured it out the next morning.

Jeff Bogle, Out With The Kids: One night last week, the Mrs. and I were talking and laughing about something ridiculous or maybe it was something else. That’s when we heard it. The jive-talking giggling of Tah Do, our resident pink & black striped Furby Boom. Something had woken her up and she was as talkative as a 10-month-old in a crib as the sun fights through slotted wooden blinds, and making about as much sense. We freaking lost it. (This was an excerpt from the blog post Jeff wrote about the Furby. You can read the whole post here.)

Chris Gould, Blog of Manly: My daughter had a Violet Leap Frog toy, and she would roll over it in the middle of the night and we would hear “Hello, Olivia” in a creepy mechanical voice – imagine waking to that from a deep sleep through the baby monitor!

(For the record, Violet got a lot of mentions; Chris just happened to be the only person who specifically agreed to be quoted. But it seems pretty clear that parents do not like Violet.)

‪Scott Posey, Father Nerds Best: We have Scout. Scout can be [annoying]. If you don’t turn him off by pressing a small button on his foot, he’ll bark at you randomly – especially when you’re trying to put your son to sleep. Or, also when you’re trying to put your son to sleep, he’ll inform the world how to spell your son’s name. Thanks Scout, that was really helpful.

‪Chris Camacho: I own a children’s resell store and one day I walked in the store at about 5 am to get some stuff done. I walked in and I heard a conversation happening toward the back of the store. I cautiously approached and heard one of the voices truly sounded demonic. I thought about calling the cops until at the last moment I recognized Tad. The other voice was Dora but her batteries were about shot and she she was slow and much lower pitched. Freaked me out.

‪James Cameron, Home Is Where The Mouse Is: We had a Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Learning Puppy. Would talk and sing randomly when no one was in the room with it. Sometimes in the middle of the night. So annoying.

Les Westfall, Jr.: I buried a dog behind the garage that liked to talk without batteries. Demon puppy. Sang evil songs. It has a grave marker of an old princess potty.

(James and Les were hardly the only two people who referenced the Fisher Price dog. Dogs may be man’s best friend, but parents seem to hate the Fisher Price version.)

‪Shawn Weil: As toddlers, my kids had a baseball toy – think “tee ball” for the 18-month-old set. If you hit it it would say “you have a double” or “it’s a home run!” The problem? Once you stopped playing with it, though, the trouble started. 30 seconds after the last hit, it would play 5 seconds of the applause of the crowd. Same at 90 seconds after the last hit. It constantly freaked us out.

So what does all this mean? Maybe nothing; maybe there’s just a glitch in circuitry or the house settles a bit without us realizing and that’s what triggers the toys. Maybe ghosts are real and they’re just messing with us.1 Maybe the electronics have become self-aware and we’re going to meet John Connor and Ah-nold sooner than we thought.

Or maybe, just maybe, Sid was right:

Feel free to share your own stories in the comments section below!


1. I have a friend, Mike, who used to do stand-up comedy in college. He had a bit where he talked about the kind of ghost he will be when he dies (I’m paraphrasing): “Some ghosts are angry; they torture and terrorize people because they have some sort of unfinished business or they need revenge. Some ghosts are friendly, like Casper. Me? I’d be an inconvenience ghost. I’m not really out to hurt anyone, I just want to have fun. I would be the kind of ghost where you get woken up at 2:00 in the morning because you hear the toilet flush and you yell out, ‘Damn it, Mike!'”

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