Smile Politely

The No-Presents Birthday Party

The Ex-Toddler’s fifth birthday is coming up. At this point I remember my sister saying of her child, “I cannot believe that time flew by so quickly.” To me, time hasn’t flown by quickly; I feel like I’ve been aware of every moment passing. Maybe it’s because I’m old; the Ex-Toddler — let’s call him “The Preschooler” — has been with me for a very small percentage of my life. I was very used to my life without him, so when he showed up, I could spend all my energy thinking about him and when he was going to start / stop talking…etc.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when we had The Garage Sale? The house is still filled with stuff, and we haven’t really bought much. The Preschooler’s stash of broken toys still fills a fifth of our personal dining room space (two fifths of it are filled with records though.) Three vats of Tinker Toys which he’s never touched, tons of building blocks, two vats of Legos. Broken musical instruments, a couple of pirate hats, hundreds of hot wheels cars he’s never looked at (one for each poop in the toilet) and a giant tub filled with bigger plastic and metal cars, trucks, broken remote-controls. The problem with all of this is that there is so much of it that he can’t even pick any of it out to play with, even if he wanted to play with something.

What does he want to play with? From year two to three, it was batteries. Double-As were his favorites. Batteries and plastic bags — he’d spend 60 minutes transferring eight double-A batteries from one zip-loc baggy to another. We actually bought him his own package of batteries to play with. Also, anything shiny and black that had a trap-door (wherein batteries might be found). Really, anything that you could put in a baggy he’d play with. He’d transfer it from one baggy to another.

From year three to four, the toy of choice was the record player, and in fact, it still is. The Preschooler comes home from work, takes off his shoes, gets himself a handful of strawberries and puts on Throb Throb by Naked Raygun (really just the song “Managua,” over and over again) and dances. On his little DJ table, he’s got Craps by Big Dipper and a couple of Clash records and the Athens, Georgia compilation from which he selects the Pylon song, “Stop It”. This is the song he plays for guests. He has pretty weird taste in music. I think his favorite song of all time is probably “Evel Knievel” by The Didjits.

Nowadays The Preschooler’s other toy of choice is the sofa. He pulls off all the pillows, lays them in front of his trampoline three feet away, and jumps on the sofa’s frame. He does this for hours. The neighbor kid, twice his age, comes over and jumps on the sofa cushions on the floor. Both children throw themselves at the cushions like they’re diving into a pool. No one touches the trampoline, except to sometimes use it as a diving board.

So comes the impending birthday party. Lately The Preschooler’s colleagues have had “birthday presents birthdays” — wherein the children tear apart the toys, throw most of them behind them on the floor, and grab the one that they like best. Party guests cry and scream for their presents to be opened and the birthday subject is bewildered, pressured to open the rest of the gifts, strung out on birthday cake and fruit punch. In my experience, when our Preschooler begins receiving items, a greedy mind ensues and all that happens is he wants more and more and more.

You can google “No Presents Birthday Party” and find discussion all over the web. Parents have implemented everything from “The Book Exchange” to the “Bring Money For Charity” party. On discussion boards you’ll find more suggestions along with a healthy amount of argument from parents who feel that presents are “part of being a kid.”

But from Birthdays Without Pressure, a website dedicated to simplifying birthday parties, comes the following nuggets of wisdom:

Out of control birthday parties contribute to:

  • A too much stuff culture
  • A me first culture
  • A trash and waste culture
  • An entitlement culture
  • A envy culture
  • A more of everything culture

We did the no-presents birthday party last year and it turned out fine, but as the children grow, I know it’s harder to pull off. I think that short of convincing The Preschooler that he’s not going to receive a new couch or a new record player, we’ll just tell him that the birthday party is for him to have fun with his guests, and we’re going to buy him some presents before or after the party. It’s really helpful that he doesn’t watch broadcast TV (so he sees no commercials), he doesn’t really have a specific list of wants.

Wish me luck (and let me know if you’ve experienced this type of deal before)!

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