At the risk of ticking off half or more of my friends, I apologize in advance. But I have to get my ongoing issues with children’s birthday parties off my chest. It is something I just can’t escape especially with two kids being invited to endless birthday parties (already three in January)! And it is very timely as we begin planning for Semira’s 6th birthday.
Let me say that I am not a scrooge and I don’t hate the concept of having a birthday party for your child. I have problems with what comes with these parties, namely presents and loot bags. Here’s a recap of a recent conversation in the Prager Household.
Me: Semira, have thought about what you want to do for your birthday this year?
Semira: I want a gymnastics party.
Me: Like last year? That’s great. Gymnastics is fun for both boys and girls.
Semira: Mom, can I get presents this year?
Semira: Ugh! (Followed by grumps, snorts, and crossing of the arms, etc.)
Me: Semira, it's too many presents. You do not need 20 new things, half of which will be junk and the other half you won't play with much. We will still buy you a nice present. We can look online later for something you might like.
We search and search online for something. It is obvious Semira has no idea what she wants (except for a DS which is a big fat NO). She can’t even think of anything (probably because she doesn’t watch TV). So I do a Google search to find out what toys were the hot items for girls her age this Christmas. What do we find? Nothing she is all that interested in or anything I am willing to buy. Sorry, I won’t be spending $200 on a giant plastic toy. I just can’t do it and sleep at night. We finally come up with a dog that barks, pants, walks, etc. I think it is silly, but whatever…it was the lesser of many evils.
Later that same night, all four of us are in the upstairs bathroom getting ready for bed and brushing teeth. I give Steve a quick recap of what we settled on for a present.
Me: So Semira would like this dog that barks, pants, and walks for her birthday. We looked a lot and so much of what we found was S-H-I-T (I spell it out).
Lily: Ooooohhhh Poppy, Mommy said a bad word! I know what she said. Can I say it? Can I say what she said?
Me: Sure, go ahead.
Lily: Mommy said SHIT!
Me: Yes Lily, I did say that most of the toys we found were shit.
The moral to the story…Lily can spell! (I am still working on losing the sailor talk). But the other point is that my kids are trained to expect A LOT of presents on their birthday and that they never leave a party empty handed. Birthday parties go something like this: Invite the entire class plus some other friends you know, have an activity (swimming, gymnastics, games, etc.), eat cake, open presents, and give everyone a loot bag on the way out the door. I can’t count how many birthdays like this we have been to since my kids have been about three years old.
Well, guess what? My kids don’t receive a boat load of presents because Steve and I banned presents after Lily turned three years old. The amount of presents she received was too much for us. That was it! We decided no more. In my excitement, I thought I would mention my new idea to a circle of girlfriends. My assumption was that most others would agree and want to do the same thing. What a win, win…we all reduce the number of gifts our kids get and the number we have to buy. The feedback I received was just the opposite. Let’s just say the response was lukewarm at best. I was stunned.
When I was growing up, all of my toys as well as my sister’s toys fit into one wooden toy box that was kept in our basement. There were a few exceptions like bicycles, miniature dollhouses, and the Barbie dream house. Today, all I see is home after home swimming in toys (including my own). Toys are like everything else. Kids play with 20 percent of them 80 percent of the time. It seems like the rest are just sitting around or getting in my way. They really don’t care about them (until you attempt to give them away)!
I feel an immense sense of guilt from all this. It is such an incredible waste of resources. Everything is crappy plastic full of chemicals made in developing countries by poor adults and children working under terrible conditions. Half of it breaks within the first few weeks. The rest collects dust. You can no longer give toys away either these days with all the toxic chemicals. Many charities no longer take them. So off they go to the landfill! Let’s pollute the earth some more. The thrill for my kids lasted all of 15 minutes and now I am stuck with the lasting effects of the stuff. Besides the social and environmental issues I help create, I now have more stuff in my house causing me mental angst because I hate clutter and I hate fighting with my kids over clutter.
So what do I do? Well, we will be having another round of present-free birthdays this year. And they will be loot bag free as well. I think we will have a piñata and kids can take a few pieces of candy home with them. Next, I am telling the world what I really think. A handful of my closest friends and family know how I really feel. But really in my quest for maintaining peace, I usually just shut my mouth and go with it (yes, I buy gifts for other kids, although I try to keep them small and non-plastic). But in my heart, I can’t believe other parents don’t feel the same. Wouldn’t it be nice if birthday parties were simply about the gathering itself? Only good can come from this: less stuff to buy, less stuff to receive, and less stress associated with stuff. Happiness comes from the celebration, mainly the gathering of friends and the fun, not the stuff you give or receive. At the end of the day, this is the message I want my kids to hear loud and clear.