Ball pits: Cute, but kind of evil

While visiting in-laws a few years back, I noticed that they had a little inflatable ball pit for their son, who is Anya’s age. How cool, I thought. And without the ick factor of public ball pits. We need to get one for Anya.

I had never played in a ball pit — I’m just a little too old, or perhaps just from too small a town, to have had access to one when I was the right age. And I am so the kind of parent who goes out of her way to give her kids everything she never had. So of course Anya had to have a ball pit of her own.

Famous last words.

If you’ve never purchased one of these things, know that they come with about 10 balls.

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Stores helpfully sell “expansion packs” — bags of 50 or so balls, to help your ball pit look less like an empty swimming pool with a few balls rolling around in it. I bought one to start with, then bought another couple bags at an after-Christmas sale. Ball pit, here we come.

Anya barely played with it. I sat in it more than she did. (It’s oddly comforting.) But when she got a little bigger, she took great delight in dumping the balls all over the floor. Over and over and over again. If we failed to fill it back up for her, she’d start picking up the balls herself — but only long enough to get us to join in. Then she quit, and let us do all the work. The second that last ball hit the pile, she would dump it again. And cackle.

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Do you know how big a mess 160 ball pit balls make in a 15 x 12 living room? A snow shovel would have been useful.

Eventually, R took the ball pit away. He was tired of picking up the balls every single day, and tired of fighting with Anya about the dumping. For a while I kept the balls in the playpen, which at least she could not dump.

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Ultimately, though, the proximity to my books (we use the playpen to bar access to my bookshelves) became too tempting, and she started pulling covers off paperbacks like wings off flies. So I washed up the balls (which get quite sticky in the hands of a toddler) in the tub, bagged them up, and packed them away.

When Kai was about a year old, I started pestering R to reinflate the ball pit. Kai is not nearly as destructive, or as ornery, as his sister. He wouldn’t dump the ball pit. And he, too, should know the joys of burying oneself in small plastic balls.

R wasn’t budging.

As the ball pit had spent the past 2 years in our hot, stinky, spider-infested garage, I was loath to put my mouth on it to inflate it. So I did the next best thing: I bought a new ball pit. And dug the 160 balls out of storage. Set it all up while R was at work. He was…not pleased with me. But he noted that Kai didn’t dump the ball pit like his sister did.

No, Kai belly flops in it, penguin-like. Immediately after you’ve put all the errant balls back in it. Over and over and over again, unless you take the ball pit away and put it where he can’t reach it. Somewhere like the laundry room.

I can’t bring myself to take it away, though. He enjoys it too much. Also, when it’s in the living room, he forgets about trying to pry the outlet covers off the electrical outlet behind it.

Does picking up 170 ball pit balls every single day count as doing crunches? If it doesn’t, it should.

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