I am the Birthday Party Pooper. Perhaps.
It’s not the fun and games I mind. It’s not the running and playing. It’s not even the cake and refined sugars. Really, it’s not. Nope.
It’s the presents.
It’s not that I am opposed to stuff. Really, I’m not. Regardless of how I attempt to keep my house purged of extraneous anything, at the end of any given day of pre-schoolers running loose, this would be apparent to anyone. Balls and blocks and random plastic things can be fun and developmentally helpful and our kids get attached to them and have fun playing with them. Nothing wrong with it. Well, except maybe when they are strewn from one side of my living room to the other.
My opposition is to the quantity. Three year olds surrounded by mountains of presents higher than they are. While said pre-schooler is standing on a chair.
No-gift is okay
I have been blessed to have been invited to birthday parties that expressly request no gifts. I love it. Unless I know the child well it’s a stab in the dark at best to purchase something that reflects that child’s interest. Admittedly part of my dislike for extraneous gifts is my personal dislike of buying gifts simply for the purpose of buying gifts. I do actually enjoy buying gifts for folks I know and love.
An example of a good exception to this is a party in which there are three invitees. Obviously these children know each other well and the probability is that the parents do too, or at least have some idea of the parents’ belief systems and the child’s preferences. When I have some notion of these things present-buying is enjoyable and pleasant. As well it should be. And furthermore I believe that part of the present-giving is showing an appreciation and love for that person whose special day you have been invited to share. For me that loses some specialness in large quantities.
Some parents enjoy buying gifts and do it in a very thoughtful way. I appreciate the parents who know and care for my child and this is why they wish to give her a present. But in mass quantities I ask myself, what is the lesson or value I wish to pass onto my child in this moment?
I am presently combating the issue in my own way by asking parents if they would like me to make a donation to a charity of their choice, or to suggest what their child might like to receive. Thus far I have only had one parent make a suggestion of a gift rather than a charity. Mostly, there’s a thankful relief and a discussion about a cause close to their heart. I think if we were to ask ourselves as parents what values we wish to instill in our children, charity and support for those less fortunate would place higher than licensed characters. This idea reduces household mess and waste for the day (again a reflection of my personal value system) and the child receives a card indicating that a donation has been made in their name, so parents can begin the conversation with their child about their beliefs. My guess is the parents themselves have already given material gifts based on knowledge of the child and their preferences. They are not going without. I hope this provides the family with an opportunity to talk about charitable giving as well as what values they hold as a family. It demonstrates that our morals and values are more than words; they are actions that must take place in the world.
I think if we were to ask ourselves as parents what values we wish to instill in our children, charity and support for those less fortunate would place higher than licensed characters.
If I have no idea, or the family doesn’t particularly care, I have a number of cards on hand. There are several online organizations that offer donations covering a range of values. As small a donation as $15 provides 3 baby chicks to a family, which will then provide them food and employment. I also might include a $10 gift card to Chapters. Who doesn’t love baby chicks and new books! Oh, and helping out others in need.
This year I have found magazine subscriptions. National Geographic has a number of magazines for various age groups. There’s also Chirp, Chickadee and Owl. You might remember Highlights from your own childhood. The catch is knowing the child’s mailing address in enough time to send the first magazine and giving the parents a heads up as to what you are doing. This is especially good for children who have birthdays near the holidays: this way they are receiving something all year long.
If you know the child is involved in an activity, offer to contribute to lessons. This way you’ve helped an ongoing expense for the family. A month or a couple of classes of swimming, or karate, may be very appreciated by a family and you’ve supported health and physical development for that child. Again, this is a reflection of my value system as I believe in physical fitness as an important aspect of health and development in children and it’s been shown that the earlier the involvement, the more likely the child is to be active throughout their life.
If you are the sort that loves to shop and actually acquire a gift I look locally, supporting local businesses and artisans, or looking for a similar item on sites such as Etsy. Most schools have Scholastic orders, which is a great way to help the school and stock up on books to have on hand. Books are also a great loot bag give away at the end of the party.
Ah, the loot bag. Stay tuned for Part 2 of The Birthday Party Pooper for that one!