Written By:  Tiffany Verzal

Alexis has a lot of toys. Wait, let me be really truthful here. Alexis has millions of toys.

I’m not exaggerating.

I dread people coming over to our house and seeing all of her toys. She has her bedroom full of toys, another bedroom full of toys, and a huge room in our basement full of toys. There is a spot in our great room full of toys. There is a spot under the bathroom sink, you guessed it- full of toys.

I am embarrassed. The embarrassment always sends me into an apologetic rant that always goes something like this. 

“Yeah, Alexis has a ton of toys. You know she is the only grandchild on my side of the family, and one of two grandchildren on Brandon’s side of the family. She was the only grandchild for both of our parents when she was born, so everyone bought her a lot of toys.

After she got hurt, it just got out of control. Most of this stuff we used for therapy, now it’s mostly bribes.”

While the grandparents do play a large part in spoiling, it mostly falls on Brandon and me. We started the habit while Alexis was in inpatient therapy living at Madonna. A majority of her toys were at our home in Texas when she started her rehabilitation, so we went to the store to get things we thought might help stimulate her brain. We didn’t feel like we could do a lot for her, so I think it helped us feel better to buy her something.

Alexis with a new toy in the hospital at Madonna, look at that smile!

It was really an experiment with toys. Some would work for one therapy session; sometimes a toy would help her stop crying for a few minutes. Sometimes a new toy would get her eyes to finally move. We were always searching for the perfect toy, the one that would help her get over the next hurdle.

When she attempted to say “Elmo” in therapy one day, I went to three stores that night, and bought everything that had Elmo on it. The same thing happened with Dora. I would carry twenty pounds of toys with me to therapy and doctors appointments every day. It sounds ridiculous. But we were desperate.

In the last two years, using her toys in therapy has slowed down. We use the ones that they have at the hospital most of the time. But it hasn’t stopped the onslaught of toys that she continues to collect. Now it’s just very expensive bribery.

“If you do good in all three therapies today, I’ll buy you a toy.” “If you wear your hand brace for three days, I’ll buy you a toy.” “If you take three steps by yourself, I’ll buy you a toy.” “If you walk by yourself across the room, I’ll buy you a toy.”

The latest, “If you get through the botox injections without anesthesia, you can get whatever you want on the Disney store site.” Soon there will be a box with three new plush characters arriving at our door.

I feel bad that it’s turned out like this. I’m afraid that she really doesn’t appreciate anything that she gets. I know that there are children who don’t have anything. I know that it is a waste of money, but I keep doing it. Believe me, I’ve tried other incentives. I’ve tried sticker charts, gem jars, i-pad applications, but nothing seems to work as good as toys.

I keep telling myself that someday we can donate all of this to shelters, advocacy centers, Madonna, and any other place that needs them- and we will.

Despite the fact that I feel so bad and ashamed about what this has become, I realize that at one time it did serve a purpose. It made me feel better, at times it helped Alexis recover, and it still helps motivate her to reach new goals.

This doesn’t mean I won’t stop apologizing to parents and children that visit the “Verzal Toy Emporium”. These things become valuable collector’s items some day, don’t they???


Tiffany Verzal

Tiffany Verzal was raised in rural Nebraska, and now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her husband Brandon and daughter Alexis (9) and Abby (2). In 2008, Alexis (then 14-months-old) was the victim of shaken baby syndrome at the hands of her daycare provider in Texas. Alexis suffered severe brain damage and has spent over 2000 hours in rehabilitation since her injury. Tiffany continues to raise awareness for traumatic brain injury, shaken baby syndrome and child abuse. Brandon and Tiffany serve as members on Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital’s Board of Trustees. Brandon is currently the Chairman of the Nebraska Child Abuse Prevention Fund Board.