And you thought you were just throwing your kid a fun little party.
I recently came across an article in Cookie Magazine – wait, let me be clear – I came across an etiquette article in Cookie Magazine. Sally Schultheiss, the author, titled the article Party Police, with this tagline: “No gifts. No siblings. No sugar. The ever-growing demands on birthday guests translate to…no fun.”
Before I get on with the article, let me give you the background story. My mom signed up for a trial subscription of Cookie Magazine just to see if we liked it. It arrived a while ago, and she just got around to skimming through it a couple of days ago. She called me afterward and said, “Hey, I was looking through my first issue of Cookie Magazine, and I didn’t even have to read the articles – I can tell you right now, they support everything you don’t. So I’m thinkin’ I should cancel that subscription. I’ll bring it over today so you can see what I’m talking about.” Well, after reading the table of contents, I knew this magazine was not for me. I decided to just look through it anyway, and that’s when I came across the article. Let’s take a look.
When my son started getting birthday invitations, I was thrilled – he’d make friends, I figured, and we’d have something to do on the weekends. But who knew the world of tot fetes is also one of rules and mandates? “Don’t bring gifts.” “No siblings.” “Please, no candy,” read one invite to a Halloween party in Beverly Hills. No candy at a Halloween party?
These requests are supposed to be harmless asterisks, almost asides – “Oh, by the way, don’t bring a present.” But do these no-gifts-please people realize what they’re putting us through? There’s instant stress: Should I listen and risk being shown up by others who’ve ignored the stated wish? Or should I bring something and risk the hosts’ annoyance? The final decision, sadly, is usually to bring a small token, maybe from the closet. And who’s the winner then? I come off as both chintzy and unable to take direction, and an innocent 4-year-old gets a pathetic canister of plastic dinosaurs.
“No gifts, please” is really control masquerading as consideration. There’s no guiding concern for other people’s time or money behind these requests. Nine times out of 10, the mother requesting no gifts is the same woman who had you fork over $500 for the bridesmaid dress that you never wore again (despite her promise that it was “versatile, three-season formalwear”) and who insisted that you arrange for a crib rental the first time she visited with her newborn because “he doesn’t like the Pack ‘n Play.”
Nor is the real concern (I’ll go out on a limb here) for what the child wants – what kid doesn’t want presents? “We already have so much crap,” the mother will moan, playing the Buddhist who eschews all earthly matter. When the fact is, she has no problem spending $45 on belly butter, $50 on a reclaimed teak rattle, or dharma-knows-what on eco-camp in Costa Rica. But wave a Little People bus by her and she faints from overconsumption.
Part of the unspoken contract between party guest and party giver is “I’ll do my job (show up on time and bring a gift) and you do yours (feed and entertain me).” There’s something unseemly about messing with that. What if I replied, “Okay, I won’t bring a gift. But would you mind not having that guy come with his guitar and his creepy koala puppet again?”
We’re all guilty of the impulse to manage everything in our kids’ lives, from the clothes they wear to the food they eat, but let’s do one another a favor and loosen up a bit. Here’s an invitation: “Come if you want, eat what you want, and bring whatever gift you want – just tape the receipt to the top.”
It’s likely that this article has aroused several different responses from you all. Let me tell you what I think.
First of all, let me just say that this article didn’t really bother me until I got to the third paragraph. Control masquerading as consideration? Excuse me? At that point, I began to take the article seriously.
I am one of those mothers who chose not to let her son have sugar in his cake on his first birthday (and, by the way, he loved his sugarless cake). I also had intended to tell people not to bring gifts, but in the end, decided it wasn’t a big deal. Most people knew we were hoping to expand Jack’s little library, so I knew we’d be getting books, anyhow. But I thought about asking for no gifts, or using Jane’s suggestion and asking for guests to donate to an organization in Jack’s name in leu of a gift.
It’s not my intent to come off as defensive, but look – I am most definitely not the woman who asked my bridesmaids to spend $500 on their dresses, nor have I requested a crib rental because my son doesn’t like sleeping in a playpen, nor do I buy $45 belly butter, nor do I purchase such things as reclaimed teak rattles for $50. I don’t fit that profile one bit, and I know it. Perhaps such a woman does exist, and for that reason, the author feels the need to single her out. However, to lay that stereotype upon each and every parent that chooses to ask for no gifts, no sugar, or no siblings…well, it simply isn’t practical.
I was particularly shocked by a sentence in the last paragraph. “We’re all guilty of the impulse to manage everything in our kids’ lives, from the clothes they wear to the food they eat…” What? So I’m not supposed to tell my child what to eat or what to wear? That falls under the category of impulsive management? Has it ever occurred to her that maybe we know best, as the parents, and have a responsibility to guide our children along the right path? I do believe there is a right and wrong way to dress, and I also believe it’s absolutely necessary to eat healthfully. Does that make me controlling?
As far as whether or not Jack will want lots of toys when he gets older – I can guarantee that he will. Unfortunately for him, just because he may want them, it doesn’t mean he’s going to get them. I want my son to be blessed, and I believe that children ought to have toys. But, my experience with Jack, thus far, goes like this: “Here Jack, want to play with this shiny caterpillar rattle/stuffed frog/vinyl book?” *Jack takes the toys from me, throws them, and proceeds to pick up my sunglasses/keys/measuring cups/plain ol’ wooden blocks* You see? I feel like my son should have toys that inspire imagination. Legos, blocks, a play kitchen, a ball, kitchen gadgets, etc, are much more imagination-inspiring than a stuffed scuba frog with rubbery hands and feet. I know some of you moms can relate!
I have to admit that I was amazed to see the words “Etiquette” and “Smart Cookie” at the top of that page. Instead, I’d title it, “One Woman’s Jaded Opinion of Parties and the Restrictions Some Hosts Impose On Her.”
What do you think?