Party Police

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?

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3 Comments

Filed under on being a mama, tea-timing

3 responses to “Party Police

  1. I’m glad you wrote this because I’d been thinking about trying Cookie. Boy would I have been disappointed!

    That woman needs to come down off her plastic lead-painted high horse. The reason a lot of moms ask for no toys is because they’d like to choose their own children’s playthings. At Suzi’s birthday, my own MIL brought her a horrid noisy Elmo car toy. It’s basically a steering wheel on a base, and when you turn the wheel and press the (many) buttons, irritating sounds come out. Unfortunately the only volume control is the off switch; luckily Suzi doesn’t play with it very often.

    The woman who wrote that article doesn’t know the meaning of giving. To her, it’s just a social chore in which she must show up at a party with a gift that cost x amount of dollars so she won’t be “shown up by others” or “come off as chintzy.” The only thing more pathetic than her philosophy is the fact that the magazine actually published it.

    About the cake–we did let Suzi sugar it up on her birthday (she never ate much of the cake anyway), but I think it’s wonderful that you took the time to make Jack a special sugar-free cake. If I’d seen your post on that before her party I may have attempted it, but I hadn’t thought much about it, and honestly we need to be altogether more careful about how we eat. We are junk food junkies.

  2. Lindsey

    I personally think that every parent is entitled to do ‘their own thing’ for their kids. And no condemnation should come for the parents making decisions for their own children! It’s as if this woman who wrote the article expects everyone to abide the rules she deems as the correct ‘Party Etiquette” for a child’s birthday. But that is just the most absurd thing to even think about. Every parent is different. Every family is different. To expect ‘EVERYONE’ to have the same standards/expectations/rules/morals is a bit old school. I just keep sitting here thinking about how bitter this woman is/was.

    As far as sugar goes, we did sugar cake! Eli loved it, for a minute. And then cried and was done! He has toys (that other people have bought him) and plays with them on occasion, but he mostly plays with balls, his cloth tool set (SO CUTE, by Melissa and Doug), and hats! Oh, KEYS! But he would rather play outside and walk down the street and pick up sticks and swing them in the air or hit the ground with them like his drum sticks! I LOVE that you made Jack his own cake! The thought of making a cake this year made me have anxiety attacks! But we love our junk food as well! We don’t really have sweets in our home very often. So, I am not all that worried about my son having it! (Although I don’t give him juice, just milk or water…is that weird?!)

    I also agree with what you said about Jack may want lots of stuff when he is older, but won’t get it all! YOU ARE THE PARENT! And THANK JESUS you don’t want to raise a bratty kid that gets everything he asks for 🙂 And that in turn makes for a kid who expects everything (I worked for a family like this…you would have a heart attack if you would have seen their toy room…oh man it makes me want to vomit thinking about it)!!!!

    I am going to stop now! I agree with you about the magazine! I was thinking about looking into too! Funny. Glad to know it’s definitely not my forte!

  3. Katie Riddle

    These things can be very tricky. I have made requested wish lists for my family. I carefully chose things that are fun, non-toxic, educational, fair-trade or made in the USA, and eco-friendly. I even provided links to the desired products. I state that although the items on the list are more expensive than more generic presents, we believe that less is more, and would even appreciate used items or money towards any of the things on the list. For the past two years, the list remains the same. Family members keep asking for a wish list, but never really give anything from it.

    My struggle is, what do you do then? Now that my kids are older, I can’t just make the toy disappear after they open it. They remember now. 🙂 And sometimes they even like the very toy I was trying to avoid coming into my house. It’s the same with food, behavior, and everything else you are faced with controversy over by leading a counter-culture life. It was easier to shelter my children from bad foods, toxic toys, and unwanted media when they were little and still exclusively parallel played. Now, when they are invited to kid’s parties, not all my friends cook with things like spelt, coconut oil, and rapadura. Some of my 6-year-old’s friends are in to Hannah Montana and now she wants to watch her show and by her merchandise. Thankfully, I have learned to tell her “no,” and we don’t have a TV.

    Where I have currently landed is to keep the bar I have set for my family right where it is, even if my “unusual” food sometimes perplexes guests at first and some of my kid’s friends don’t understand why we don’t own a TV. To say the least, I have become incredibly grateful for like-minded families.

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