Funny thing – I had a post almost put together on the whole gift giving idea, and then Megan commented on my last post, asking some questions about why we don’t have gifts at our kids parties, and so I thought I’d just go ahead and post what I started to write.
Way back when, before E turned one, we attended a first birthday party for another little friend. Everyone brought gifts to that party – friends, and family, and more friends, and more family. They had lots and lots of both, and they naturally wanted to celebrate with all of them. It was a gorgeous spring day, and everything about the party was relaxed and enjoyable.
And then we all went inside to the (currently unfurnished) living room of their house to face the enormous (I mean seriously gigantic) pile of presents. And my friend (the baby’s mom) looked really stressed. She was getting a lot of pressure to open the gifts for all to see, her little guy was tired out from the festivities, and there were dozens of small toddlers and preschoolers already over-stimulated by the brightly wrapped packages. Every single present was oversized and plastic and battery operated – it was like seeing an entire toy aisle of Target relocated into that room – and as each present was unwrapped the pressure to get the baby to look at it and react to it and smile for the camera with it turned him into a mushy mess. The rest of the kids were nuts, and everyone kept yelling the names of the gift givers and the presents to someone in the corner with a list. Fights broke out over toys, the birthday boy howled, and I just kept wondering where the heck they were going to store it all. Someone laughed at the excess, and said she could probably donate about half of it, and then it was incredibly awkward for a moment because people had spent real, real money on those gifts.
And so we decided to forgo them, and I’ve never, ever regretted it. Here are some of the reasons why:
I like that our parties celebrate the girls – they pick the theme, and they come up with some of the best ideas for what they want their celebration to be. I get to also do things that I love to do, but need an excuse to do too – like decorate cookies or bake enormous cakes, and make invitations and decorations from all of the ideas constantly percolating in my head. I like inviting lots and lots of people to our celebrations – it’s summertime, and people are always in and out of town and busy with summer things, but we have the potential for some really large gatherings, and the idea of a corresponding pile of presents makes my head hurt.
I’m kind of particular about toys in general – there are lots of toys that I don’t really care for, don’t have a lot of play value, and take up a lot of room to store. It always feels uncomfortable to make specific requests for gifts – like “only books, please”, or “bring a creative gift to share” – I just don’t like the idea of requesting gifts in general. (Even registering for wedding and baby gifts stretched my comfort level, for sure.) We are very, very lucky to have families that really know our girls well, and know what they love, and what we love too – and they always ask. We can often time big purchases around parties too, and sometimes someone will ask us if they can get a gift to compliment recent projects on the house. M’s parents bought a bedside table for F to go with her new big girl bed (which is really a hand-me-down bed that was originally a gift to E from my parents when she turned two). Speaking of hand-me-downs – we re-gift those as well. Books are always welcome, of course!
When the girls were little, they didn’t notice the difference. There were still presents to open with family, and I think they’d rather play with their friends at the party rather than stop to open presents. Most parties they attend have gifts, and we are more than happy to bring them. We used to make the gifts a lot – like homemade coloring books or art bags – but now we seem a lot busier, and so we usually default to a book, or a package of construction paper and new glue sticks, or a puzzle to match a party theme. They are always eager to help their friends in the unwrapping and see the goods, but they’ve never complained to us about not having the same thing at their own parties. After E’s first six birthdays, we scaled the parties back a bit. For number seven, she had two friends over (with gifts) for a nail painting / art party, and she got a nail polish gift and friendship bracelet kit. It was the perfect scale party, and she loved it. For her eighth birthday she had five friends over for her Egyptian themed party because she wanted to have three teams of two for all the games she planned, and again we didn’t request no gifts because of the size of the party. Her friends brought her Egyptian sticker books and matchbox cars – again, a reasonable scale. Because we did such a big room makeover for her ninth birthday we didn’t do a blowout party with friends. This year, for ten, she wants a candy party, and she’s busy planning it all right now. She wants to invite a lot of friends (including her whole soccer team), and so she even initiated the “no gifts, please” policy in her mock up invitation, telling me that she didn’t want them because there would be so many kids there. She’d rather have more time to do fun things with her friends than have all the attention on her opening gifts any day. She’s made sure that I know what IS on her birthday list for family though – books, art supplies and clothes, particularly gift certificates so that she can shop for them on her own. She doesn’t fall too far from the tree… she’s already anticipating fall afternoons browsing through art stores and bookstores. I’m kind of looking forward to it as well.
Last week, one of F’s friends asked me “Why doesn’t she want to have presents for her birthday?” and F turned to me and said “Mom, why don’t I want to have presents for my birthday?” Phrased like that it sounded kind of ridiculous – like if given the choice, why would any sane person choose no presents over some presents? I told her friend that she does want presents for her birthday, and she’ll get to open plenty at her house party, but at her fountain party she probably just wants to play.” And F turned to her and said “Definitely play. And eat ice cream.”