Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Birthday Party - Part Deux

I heard of an interesting concept whilst at a friend's house for dinner yesterday evening. A mum she knows, sick of dealing with the plastic crxp that gets given as presents to her children at their birthday parties, has taken to writing the following (or something like it) on invitations:

'My children have plenty of toys. Please don't bring any presents to this party, it's enough that you can come and join the fun. If you feel you really must give something, we have bought X a birthday piggy bank, and feel free to contribute up to £3.00'

What do you think? Is this a revolution in birthday parties, freeing parents of competitive present buying, children of asking their guests to hand over the goods as they walk through the door, and harrassed mothers of finding homes for yet more non-recyclable plastic toys every year? Or is it just ridiculously anal, controlling, kill-joy behaviour on the part of the mother?

Answers on a post card please...

And speaking of birthday parties, Boy #1 had his yesterday. I must admit that the day did not dawn auspiciously. My relief at the fact that for the first day in what seems like weeks I was not woken by rain spattering on the windows was swiftly dampened when Boy #1, overexcited at the morning ahead, spilt a cup of milk over our bed. Not wanting to fall behind in the laundry stakes, I threw the bed-linen into the washing machine and started it. Five minutes later Boy #2, who after downing his milk in record time, had rediscovered a half-eaten carrot that he had squirreled away somewhere the previous day, and then proceeded to eat too quickly, threw up. All over himself, the kitchen, and Husband in his heavy duty dressing gown.

Faced with another load of laundry and no empty machine to put it in, I then looked at a floor that also needed rapid attention, and remembered that whilst I had made it to supermarket to buy bread for sandwiches for the party, I had not remembered to replace the floor cleaner or the bleach which had run out the previous day when I was clearing up Boy #2's eggshell mosaic effort whilst baking the birthday cakes.

All this before 7.15am. (For future reference, at a push, Toilet Duck diluted with water will do the trick...)

After this rather sticky start however, when we finally got to it the party was a roaring success. The Ecology Centre at Holland Park did us proud again, and twenty-two 4 and 5 year-olds listened attentively whilst they were given instructions on how to pond-dip in safety, before proceeding to soak themselves, each other, and any adults foolish enough to be standing nearby. We then proceeded deeper into the woods and went 'on safari' looking for mini-beasts. Not a stone, worm, earwig, snail or spider went unturned, but all were returned alive (though perhaps not well, after their ordeal) to the wild after being thoroughly examined and exclaimed over.

Sandwiches, tangerines, and chocolate birthday cake were all devoured by an amazingly well-behaved group of children (fresh air is the best appetite builder), before the activity co-ordinator delivered his piece de resistance at the end of the party and pulled out a Royal Python for them to get up close and personal with. (It was amazing how many grown men suddenly declared themselves in need of a little fresh air at this point...).

As ever, I hideously over-catered, despite having halved the amount of food we took for the adults after last year's short-bread debacle, when we were eating it at home for weeks afterwards. (Scratch that - I was eating at home. And it didn't take weeks.) So, having learned last year that the yummy mummy brigade wouldn't go within sniffing distance of anything remotely fattening, I had decided to play it safe and simply take fruit for the adults to snack on.

For Pete's sake. Three bananas got eaten. THREE! We will be eating fruit salad for some time, needless to say.

And then, of course, there were the presents, unwrapped at home. (By the way, should you be going to any children's parties any time soon please please please fasten your card to your present with superglue. I pride myself on my amateur detective skills, but even so we always seem to be left with one present unaccounted for...) Plastic crxptastic, most of it, but of course Boys #1 and 2 were delighted with the haul. And despite the fact that Husband and I were less so, and that if I stand on even one more piece of tiny plastic from various Lego, Duplo, Transformers, or Power Rangers kits in my bare feet again I will not be responsible for my actions, I do think that a piggy bank full of coins just wouldn't really compare to mountains of brightly coloured 'stuff', for a 5 year old.

There's time enough for minimalism in their futures, I think.


  1. OMG! I have just caught up on your last five posts (v busy week and weekend)and can't believe the week you've had! Hope things calm down this week.

  2. I'm all for banishing the plastic tat! I actually think it breeds overnight. Lady and the Chimp still too young for parties (getting away with this so far...) but if asked for suggestions, books or jigsaws are both blissfully quiet and easier on the eye.

  3. It's a fine balance: no-one wants to encourage rampant materialism, but for a child, the opening of a present is SO exciting, and what a birthday is all about. For me, coins in a piggy bank isn't the same - not at this age. It really isn't long before they're into cash and Amazon vouchers, so at this age, let them enjoy the unwrapping and the toys. But I have never had a party for 22. I think 8 has been my limit. Does that put a different complexion on it?

  4. Oh good grief - presuming your guests are going to bring a present is right up there with putting the thank-you note into the party bag!
    We just phone the mum to ask for general interests - tractors or trains, Batman or Dr Who, ballet or ponies -these are the important distinctions!
    Thanks for the useful toilet duck tip - one can learn so much reading blogs! :-) t.x

  5. Kitschen Pink: thank-you notes in the party bags? Ooooh nooooo. I've never seen that.

    Mind you, I have heard of parties here where the invitation specifies "no presents, gift cards only", which is pretty gross.

  6. I have the same irksome feeling about all the "crxp" too, but by the same token, it is hard to take away the whole pressie thing. (Plus I do think that the principle of giving bit is as important when your kid goes to other parties.) I never quite had the guts to say 'no presents' - and I view the piggy bank as only one step off wedding gift registries, which I loathe. (And I'm gobsmacked at the 'gift cards only' anecdote there!!) As Iota says, it's not long before all they are getting is blasted vouchers...

    My answer I suppose has been trying to limit the number invited.(same number as their age is one guide - but it can backfire if everyone can't come!!)

    As my girls have got older, we've done more of the homemade gifts. (One is into beading...)
    Recently at a party when they went iceskating, the invitation asked for their presence rather than presents, and so if instead of a present they were able to pay for their entry to iceskating, then that would be more fun for the birthday girl.
    (Sorry, bit of a babble there... it's certainly a topic I could get my teeth into!!)

  7. Clueless here has spent most of the time trying to figure out whether "crxp" was a new X Box or Play Station game. I thought you were supposed to use asterixes when tarting up a swear word!

  8. I'm not sure what's worse, the plastic tat or the 'wedding list' type money idea which just seems a bit mercenary to me.....but for little boys, a matchbox car or two will keep them very happy, even if they get all over the house and under your feet.

  9. WM, I'm hoping they do, but with a family wedding this weekend it doesn't seem likely...

    Hi Smalls, thanks for visiting and commenting. As for books and jigsaws, we tried that too. Worked for the first 3 years - after that it all went pear-shaped on the present front!

    Iota, not really - it just means there is a lot more crxp to put away...

    KP, I think I can only blame myself for the plastic rubbish then. Made the mistake of mentioning the transformers interest to one mum (ONE MUM), and the news spread like wildfire. Either that, or all 5 year old boys like that stuff - which I think is more likely...

    TP, good idea on the numbers. Only thing is that I really wanted him to have the chance to get to know his new classmates - and if you invite one, you have to invite them all (school rule). So, with best buddies from nursery and best buddies in the neighbourhood, and various kids bringing siblings, suddenly you hit 22...

    EPM, you're right. I stand corrected...

    VG, again, tried that. And now we have boxes and boxes of matchbox cars, one of which Boy #2 has just this moment tipped all over the floor...

  10. Congrats on surviving one of life's thornier occasions. When did kid's parties become such productions? If I had a dime for every party I've made myself crazy over...and why? They have fun no matter what.(It really does get a lot better when they get older and the parents stop coming. Makes a HUGE difference).

    Good luck with that fruit salad.

  11. Your nature walk sounds great fun. I can assure you, if I were invited I would ignore the bananas and fight the kids for chocolate cake. The guy with the large snake sounds interesting too...Go and have a lie down - you deserve it.

    Mya x

  12. RC, I am so sick of tangerines, you have no idea. And don't get me started on apples and peaches...

    Mya, you sound like the perfect party guest. You would definitely be the first I would placate with a piece of cake (if only to save the children).

  13. I think the coins in the piggy bank is OK in theory but I would wake up in a cold sweat at night worried that I'd robbed my kid of a childhood cos I was being a bit controlling! I have to fight that instinct as it is! Great blog by they way!

  14. sorry to only commment on a teensy part of your post...but writing 'love from...' on the wrapping paper with marker pen, AND sticking the card on is the way forward.

    your party sounds very impressive...and soooo London dahling!!!

  15. Hi TG, thanks for visiting and commenting and don't worry, you are not alone. More mums than would like to admit it find themselves fighting (and often losing to) their controlling instinct...

    Pig, good tip. And since we live in London I'll take that as a compliment (I think?). But shhh - the ecology centre package was considerably less expensive than most of the alternatives. So maybe not quite as London as all that after all...

  16. I think I must be old fashioned because to me having a party with lots of presents - tat or not - is all part of growing up. sure they end up with a bunch of stuff you wish to god you could dump straight in the charity bag and you wouldn't dream of buying yourself in a million years, but you also end up with some really lovely, thoughful gifts. And having mum race around desperately trying to remember who bought what is also surely an essential part of motherhood!
    My three-year-old has a moneybox and anytime someone puts some coins in it she empties them out and feeds them into the small slot in the side of her baby's pushchair!

  17. That is a GREAT idea and I wish I'd come across it ten years sooner!

  18. I know what you mean about the gifts. There is part of you that knows the kid will have fun with it, but then there is that other part that just thinks that you have enough toys and there is no need for more. It is a hard thing to balance..the desire to please the child yet please your own sore toes and feet from tripping all over it.

  19. Tara, I'm curious - what happens to the coins then? Do they collect in the bottom of the push chair, or simply roll out and get 'looked after' by mummy? (Which is probably what would happen here...)

    TD - sure it's too late?

    J's Mommy, it's a dilemma. Right now I'm still erring on the present side - but give it another couple of birthdays, and who knows?

  20. Gawd I feel bad. I ended up selling on some of my secondborns 'plastic birthday tat' at my garage sale this summer. We got so many repeat trains/planes/automobiles that it seemed crazy to keep them. Happy ending though because the money raised with the toy sales we gave to the boys to spend on ice creams when we were on vacation.

    This makes me feel better. At least I didn't pawn my kids toys to buy myself shoes. but come to think of it, that's a darn good idea!

    I actually would like to be able to ask for contributions to their piggy bank or to ask guests to club together towards something bigger and more useful (we'd rather have had an easel for the boys than 20 more cars...) However I couldn't bring myself to mention that on the invite or face to face.

    Like several of us have commented here, the opening of the present is the highlight for the birthday boy/girl and their guests. The squeals of delight are magic and ripping open a gift card just wouldn't bee the same to a toddler would it?

    I do however hope to use the like 'we'd rather have your prescence than your presents...' in the future one day when am feeling braver about kids parties!

    However PM, sounds like you did a marvellous job and the party sounded so fun. My boys would have had a blast and I'd have eaten your chocolate cake AND the fruit. 3 bananas? Oh come now.....!

  21. When did you slip this post in PM?

    Ah well. I just can't believe what parents are going to these days for their children's birthday parties. Is it a competition or something?

    I remember some of mine - and how Mum slipped (unwrapped) pennies into the cake. There was always just the family for the party - maybe - maybe - a friend. That was it!

    Nowadays? OMG! A herd has to attend? Why?

  22. Hi M/M, thankyou. Another piece of cake? Go on - you know you want to. And look - I'll add extra smarties, too... You know you love them!

    Aims, it's really not that bad. Obviously I exaggerate for the sake of entertainment on the blog. But I must admit that competitive party throwing for your 4 - 8 year old is a sport that is alive and well in this part of town. (In my defence, however, we didn't invite all those kids for that; we simply wanted to give Boy #1 the chance to meet up with his old friends and at the same time bond with his new school mates. Hey presto, you're at 20 kids...)

  23. Ooh, I've just discovered your blog... and I had to comment on the plastic crap thing (is crap really swearing?!)
    My daughter had her 5th birthday party this year and I was so delighted to discover that 18 of her 20 "friend" presents were craft sets and things that she's actually been using over the last few months. Maybe it helped that she had a "craft party" and all the mums asked "so she's into crafts then?" But, even if she'd had 10 barbies, I don't think money would have done the trick. There's nothing like ripping paper off at that age. (maybe if she'd had 10 brat.z dolls.....) Last year when she was 4 I rang my sister in law after her party (where she recieved all very noble and educational gifts) and asked her to go and buy the brightest most plastic-y present she could find - because I felt like she was missing out on a childhood experience. And her face when she opened the My Little Pony island was just priceless. Seriously. (She played with it for approximately 3 and 1/2 weeks and it now lives under her bed, gathering dust, but I still don't regret my impulse). Sometimes the excitement of getting something useless and plastic-y is worth way more than the present itself.... (in my opinion anyway ;-))

  24. Geepee mum, thanks for visiting - and for casting your vote on the side of the plastic crap party (which I must admit, I am inclined to favour myself!)


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