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To Give Or Not To Give

Photograph by Getty Images/Polka Dot RF

Here’s a brain teaser: A girl receives an invitation to a birthday party. The invitation specifically states “no gifts, please”. Should the girl:

a) run out and buy the perfect gift for the birthday girl; she’s no Scrooge

b) show up at the party empty-handed; after all, the invitation was quite clear


c) scratch her head and wonder what the phrase “no gifts” really means

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The correct answer is d) all of the above.

Last week, my teenage daughter attended a birthday party without a gift in hand. This was intentional on her part. The invitation was quite clear in its wording: no gifts, please. It felt odd sending her off to a celebration empty-handed, but I'm a rule follower.

Call me crazy, but to me, no gifts means no gifts. Apparently, to others in attendance, no gifts means, “Hmm, what can I buy for a 16-year-old girl?” Needless-to-say, my daughter was mortified. As party goer after party goer entered the room, Mabel felt her face grow hotter and redder as each gift passed by.

I felt terrible too. In choosing to abide by the party rules, I shorted the friend a birthday gift and put Mabel in an uncomfortable position.

Initially when I learned of the party and its no gifts rule, I was both relieved and impressed (and a bit shamed). Relieved because it was one less gift requiring hours of thought and internet searches.

Ironically, I take gift-giving very seriously. Before going the old tried and true gift card route, I deliberate and deliberate. What does the person like? What has she mentioned in passing? What would I like to receive as a gift? I pride myself on my ability to come up with that how-did-you-remember, oh-my-gosh-I-love-this-gift gift.

A no gifts rule denotes no thoughtfulness, no caring. But I was so impressed by a teenage girl who was willing to sacrifice materialism for maturity, I allowed my own insecurities to be tamped down. Would either of my children pass up the opportunity to rake in the gifts? Most likely not. Would I? Uh, sure.

It's not often you see a child’s invitation with a “no gifts, please” stipulation. The last one I can recall was back when my son was in preschool. Under “Come bowl with Alec” was a clear message: "No gifts, please. We are asking that you bring cans of food for the food pantry instead." How noble, I remember thinking. How frustrating for a four-year-old, I’m sure. But his parents set the tone early on, and though we've lost contact with the child, probably raised a young adult who is way less materialistic than most people I know (guilty as charged).

As my children write out their holiday lists and I catch glimpses of things like UGGs and new cars—yes, new cars—I so badly want to go back and do it all over again. I want to be the mom who turns her back on the pressures of consumerism and our more, more, more society.

I suppose it's not too late. A few gifts have already been purchased and are tucked away for last-minute holiday wrapping, but they are easily returnable. Most likely, though, I will continue to buy into the hype and continue to buy more and more and continue to send the wrong message to my family: Gifts equal love.

Mabel's friend definitely had the right idea. It’s time we all embraced the no gifts, please mentality. Sadly, Mabel seemed to be the one person, the only person who honored her friend's request. For that, we may have appeared cheap or inconsiderate. That was a chance we were willing to take.

Should another no gifts, please invitation cross our path, I'd do the same thing all over again.

Now can someone please tell me where I can find some cute UGG boots?

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