Let’s face it—when you’re pregnant with your first child, the advice and tidbits of knowledge you receive from friends and strangers alike can be wonderful and overwhelming. Everything from how to nurse your baby in public, to what the best sleep training method is, to what brand of diapers is the best for the waking hours versus the sleeping hours, and on and on. So many new things to learn, so little time.
Here are the two facts that no one ever told me that—since you are taking the time to read this—you now know too:
1) Within 5 years of the birth of your child, your family will be drowning in a sea of Chinese plastic.
2) You must create a line item in your family budget titled: Birthday Gifts for your Child(ren)’s Friends.
From personal experience, I was woefully unprepared for what would happen at around age 2 when, all of a sudden, on almost a weekly basis, along with the reports that came home documenting my child’s sleeping, eating, and playing nicely with friends rituals, would be a brightly colored invitation. An invitation, at this young age, to a birthday party for a child you may have seen a time or two and you only know him as Weevi because that’s what your toddler that has difficulty pronouncing “L’s” swears his name is. (The invitation confirms the name you assume to be true, by the way.)
So what do you do? You go to Target and stroll aimlessly down the toy aisles wondering, “What’s popular with boys these days?”—or if you have a boy yourself, “Does Weevi like Super Heroes like my son?” and “What’s the appropriate amount of money to spend on a gift for a child you hardly know?” It can be absolutely overwhelming. Especially during the Season of Births when you’re likely to be at multiple parties on any given Saturday.
In reference to my Untold Fact #1, I am in no way anti-Chinese. I love the people, the culture, and my gosh, the yummy food, but good grief…the amount of plastic that country produces and sends our way is unfathomable. While I’m as guilty as the next mom of just picking up the cutest Barbie or Thomas the Train I see, I’ve started making a more focused effort on what we are giving to others. Read: Let my kids gift what I would like my kids to be gifted.
Here are some ideas my children have either given or received that are memorable and unlikely to end up in the Goodwill pile within 6 months:
- For younger children, I recommend anything wooden. The Melissa and Doug pizza and birthday cake sets are still huge hits at our house even years into their time with us.
- Crafts of all kinds—with the exception of those with teeny tiny little pieces that end up all over the house (like beads). Anything that will take a child into their creative zone? I’m all for it.
- Books. Because, well, who doesn’t love books?! I usually pair the book with a homemade bookmark from my child that gives the gift a more personal touch.
- For Summer birthdays, we usually give bubbles, sidewalk chalk, and a beach towel. Bubbles and chalk will eventually run out and you can really never have too many beach towels—right?
- Bird houses/bird feeders! These are one of my regular gifts that parents always rave about. We’ll wrap up a bird feeder with a bag of seed or a hummingbird feeder with a bag of sugar and some red food coloring, and it’s always a hit. It’s practical, fun to do with kids, and makes a lovely addition to the OUTSIDE of your home! Think outside the house when you think gifts, folks!
- You may think this is crazy…and the comments may fly on this one…but if it’s an extra special friend, we will ask the parents if the child has a college savings 529 Plan and contribute to that along with something cheap—generally Target dollar bin—flash cards, pencils, paper, etc. Who cares if they toss the flash cards after a month? Today’s $20 will be tomorrow’s $50, and their parents will love you!
On to Untold Fact #2. It was written with a bit of jest, but in all honesty—the number of potential birthday parties that you’ll attend (and therefore buy a gift for) can be substantial over the course of a year. By all accounts, it seems as if the standard birthday gift amount (more likely than not in the form of some sort of molded Chinese plastic) is around $25, give or take. That is usually my limit unless they are those extra special friends previously mentioned. However, I really do believe you can give a great gift while still spending very little money. I’m not nearly this organized, but I have a friend that has a Birthday Closet in her home, and anytime she finds a bargain gift, she’ll add it to her collection. (Y’all. It’s so cool. On the inside of the door is a fold down wrapping station!) She has it organized into gender specific gifts, gender neutral gifts, and even themed gifts. If her son is going to a Star Wars themed party, guess who the cool kid is that shows up with a Star Wars themed gift?! You know those times you’re killing a few spare minutes perusing Michael’s or when you’re hitting the after-Christmas 75% off toy sales at both Target and Walmart? Those are perfect times to pick up a few inexpensive items to have on hand. Few of us are lucky enough to have space for a Birthday Closet but most anyone can manage a Birthday Box.
At this point in my children’s childhood, they really do have too much. Between parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and neighbors and ALSO friends, birthdays have become an over-stimulating barrage of stuff. My plan (which will sound like the worst idea ever to them, but will soon become the best idea) is to have a charitable gift birthday when we have parties going forward. Organizations like the Ronald McDonald House Charities Nashville, St. Luke’s Community House, and Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt not only impact the lives of children in our community but are greatly appreciative of donations—especially when they come from children. Request that gifts to your child’s party be (or include) a book, a stuffed animal, bubbles, crayons, etc, and let your child join you to deliver the gifts. The experience alone will make it a birthday they will likely never forget.
Birthdays are important. Birthday parties are important. It’s so very exciting in the lives of our children. It’s their day. It’s their own personal celebration. It’s just up to us as parents to make it more about the memories the gifts can create and less about how much stuff our children can accumulate. Especially that Chinese plastic…