Christmas over. Christmas checks cashed. Kids’ pockets have burning holes. What’s a mama to do? Take a trip to Barnes & Noble!
It’s been a few years since I set foot in a Barnes & Noble’s bookstore. Our family lived overseas for the past three years, where bookstores were few and far between. But Barnes & Noble has always held a special place in my heart. It was there that I would go in my mid-teenage years to grab a pile of books and cozy up in a chair at the end of an aisle, carefully browsing to make my selection, or sometimes just reading Calvin and Hobbes for hours on end. I love everything about these stores: the smell, the coffee shop next door, the experience of seeing all the new titles.
Imagine my surprise, when I set foot into the bookstore last weekend only to discover that my favorite childhood bookstore has evolved into a trendy toy store with a book section in back! At first I was disappointed, because I really wanted my kids to sit immersed in reading, just as I used to do as a child. Instead, they let out yelps of joy and started whipping Paw Patrol figures off the shelves like they were ninja shuriken stars.
Time for a new mommy strategy. My brain went into high gear about how to triage the situation. Two boys - ages 2 and 4 - were suddenly loose in a “bookstore” maze of cars, dolls, games, and blocks.
How does one stop two child monsters with eyes green with toy greed from imposing mass destruction and chaos throughout the toy aisles? Here is my advice:
- Make sure you have as many adults with your party as children. This is a one-on-one job. I enlisted my husband immediately, who had wandered over to the Star Wars collectables section (of the “bookstore?!).
- Each mature responsible adult is paired up with a young toy-grabbing childling. The adult is responsible for any and all toy destruction by their assignee.
- Lay down the law. Immediately. Here is the law:
Rule #1: You have $20. It MUST buy a book. Browse and select books before embarking upon toy area (which by the way is half the store).
Rule #2: Upon selection of age-appropriate book that does not include any licensed character or movie/television promotion, any funds remaining from book purchase will be placed under consideration to be used for toy purchases. All toy purchases must be pre-approved by responsible adult. Any toy desires must be noted by child and added to Toy Purchase Wish Bucket (aka the “shopping basket”). No toys may be thrown around, played with in excess, stomped upon, crushed, opened, squashed, colored, built, or handled in any way other than to place them in the Wish Bucket. Failure to abide by these rules results in immediate removal of toys from Wish Bucket and replacement onto shelves.
Rule #3: Items must be selected from shelves and not other patrons’ Wish Buckets or hands.
Rule #4: Any whining, screaming, or similar “outside voice” utterances will void the opportunity to purchase a toy. Child will return to book section of bookstore and sit quietly for remainder of excursion, browsing books (an activity that will be vigilantly enforced by responsible adult).
For the record, my kids did great. Okay, correction: for the record, my kids did okay. We had to clean up the Paw Patrol display and nearby aisle about 10 times. There was a lot of loud exclaiming of toy names and features. Some loud and wild musical exhibitions on the toy keyboards.
But we walked out relatively unscathed, and even with some leftover money. The kids browsed books for a surprisingly long time. We emerged with a Llama Llama book (RIP Anna Dewdney), a book about colors, a car loader, and a Paw Patrol rocket. The trip lasted for about 45 minutes. Only one child had to be pulled aside for emergency quiet reading in the corner. And then we made it over to a park for an hour where they both had fun playing with their new toys, followed by goodnight stories with their new books.
Also, I need to mention some kudos to Barnes & Noble (I am not affiliated with or in communication with Barnes & Noble whatsoever, by the way). Their toy aisles were pretty amazing. It was the first “toy store” I have been to in a very long time where I am not overwhelmed by pink and blue. The toys were assorted and seemed well-curated. They were organized by activity and age, not by gender in any way. I didn’t see a pure princess section or a pure action figure section. Dolls were mixed between musical instruments and trains. Science experiments rested alongside sewing activities.
Kids actually can walk (or run) into a Barnes & Noble and have a great opportunity to choose toys or books that interest them, without outside pressure of choosing the “right” toys and books that are meant “for” them. For this, I have a little more love in my heart for the store. I know bookstores have gone through some pretty rough times in the age of all-things-digital. So I give credit to B&N for having updated their offerings, made their store a little different than I remember, but maybe a little greater too.
Kristen Jarvis Johnson is an international lawyer-turned-entrepreneur, co-founder of Boy Story, family devotee, and social changer. She can't decide whether to lean in or lean back, but with two young sons, her hands always seem to be full. Her village is her rock: her husband, family, friends, and colleagues. Find her on Facebook & Instagram @kristenmjj and on Twitter @kristenmj
Boy Story is not affiliated with Barnes & Noble. We just love to shop there.