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What To Give The Toddler Who Has Everything

Photograph by Getty Images

Dear Frenchie,

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.


Crabby Childless Aunt

P.S. I'm not crafty, so please don't ask me to make anything.

Dear Crabby,

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.

Presents! Yay! Who doesn't love them?

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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 enjoyment.

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!

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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.

Party on,


Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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