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All of my friends'
children are swimming in stuff, and I know their parents are conflicted about
it. I think having too many toys is really not great for children, and also I
am cheap. What do I do when I'm invited to a toddler party? I don't want to be
the stingy aunt, but even bringing a book starts to feel excessive when the kid
could practically open a public library in his bedroom. I deeply love both
the toddler in question and his parents, and I'm the first to drop everything
in a babysitting crisis.
P.S. I'm not
crafty, so please don't ask me to make anything.
I've developed an ornery aversion to the piles of plunder at
kid parties. I'm not one to point fingers
though, as my own children used to amass heaps of loot—with me playing willing
accomplice to the crime against decency.
What I discovered was that once my kids got past the
frenzied thrill of unwrapping everything and gazing at the party spoils, there
was little actual enjoyment to be gained from all that matter they received. They
ended up feeling entitled, and I ended up more than slightly nauseated by it
all; the cost to my friends, the wasteful packaging, the gluttony. Kids don't need very much to entertain
themselves, and there is definitely a point where too much works against their
All of this is to say, Crabby, you are on to something. If you can find a way to express your love without
adding to the landfill—superb! That's the real trick, however, and I'm sure
that you'd rather exchange "favorite" for "crabby" in your moniker. Sadly, showing up to the party empty-handed
isn't going to help your cause.
You can help the hapless aunts and uncles out there by keeping the birthday binges in check.
On the bright side, little kids are easily thrilled, so
showing up with a bunch of flowers for your host and something small for the
petit birthday star will often make everyone happy. I once gained beaucoup points by giving my toddler niece a can of shaving cream
for her birthday. She had more fun
emptying its contents on the walls of the shower than she did with all of her
other gifts combined. Barbasol Beard
Buster is $1.62 last time I checked.
When my older daughter Oona turned 9, in lieu of some
overly packaged art kit that inevitably comes with four teeny, often dried-out,
containers of paint, an aunt invited Oona for an afternoon out. The two of them went to the famous Strand
bookstore in Manhattan. They browsed the stacks for hours and Oona was allowed
to pick out a book to bring home. Then
they went out for dessert. I wish I had
thought to give her that!
Parents, you can help the hapless aunts and uncles out there
by keeping the birthday binges in check. Although I have yet to write "no gifts please" on an invite, I may be
getting close. Ever since I tried to act a
little more French with my kids—and with regard to birthdays this
translates into a little less indulgent—we've changed up the schedule to allow for
birthday parties every other year. When
party years roll around we keep it mellow, and invite only four or five friends
to attend. Gone are the days of 50 guests
and multiple Costco sheet cakes. Trust me—nobody misses them.