Sweet and so easily pleased.
For the older boys, birthdays can be a little more complex. I blame all of this on a trend that began in the eighties or nineties. When I was a kid -- in the sixties and seventies -- birthdays were almost always simple affairs. You might blow it out for your tenth or your sixteenth, but for the most part, a birthday party meant inviting over the neighborhood kids. The birthday kid picked out the cake. We ran through the sprinkler, opened a few presents, and sang Happy Birthday. My parents snapped a few photos.
No ponies, no clowns, no magicians. There was usually a donkey present. We pinned a tail on it.
I have never embraced the growing trend to host over-the-top parties. I've never hired a pony, a clown or a magician. Since 100% of my kids' extended family lives elsewhere, we do have birthday parties, and parties, I have found, have certain unalterable requirements. Somewhere along the way some well-intentioned but very short-sighted individual introduced an item that has stymied and beset mothers for decades: The Gift Bag. Who dreamt up this infernal complication, I can't say. I doubt she is a mother. I believe she's currently residing in a witness protection program in rural Wyoming.
See, when I was a kid, the "gift" the guest received was participation in the party. Not good enough these days, not by a long shot. Oh, I've tried to buck the system, really I have. Sadly, The Gift Bag is here to stay. Apparently, you can dispense with this as kids get older, but by then party goers eat a whole lot more. Things are a little simpler, but not necessarily cheaper.
If you're the hosting mother, The Gift Bag is just one more headache and expense. If you're the mother of a guest, it's just one more collection of sugar and assorted stuff coming in your door. (I use the word "stuff" in its loosest sense. Believe me, I could generate a whole host of nouns far more fitting than "stuff," but I'd really prefer to keep this blog rated G).
Kolbe's birthday is coming soon to a backyard near me. In timely fashion, I brought in the mail and found The Oriental Trading Company catalogue.
Kolbe grabbed the catalogue and began a quick perusal. "Cool stuff for the gift bags, Mom," he shared with unbridled enthusiasm. "Fake vomit! Awesome!'
Yes, among their many products is fake vomit. A fun way to play harmless pranks, they assure me. Made of rubber, five inches long! A dozen for a mere ten bucks. Kolbe was transfixed and spent the next two days leafing through the catalogue until it was dog-eared and full of highlighted treasures.
Their other offerings include:
- Alien test tube slime.
- Fart whistles. New this year!
- Wind-up crawling fingers.
- Gummy flesh fries. No, that's not a typo. Great finger food, according to the ad. Watermelon-flavored and fat-free!
- Whoopee cushions. Of course.
- An item so gross I can't even bring myself to add it to the list.
No mother dreamt up the idea of gift bags, and, I promise, no mother sat around the conference table while forward-thinking product engineers came up with these items. Now boys? This is right up their alley. Of course these are the very boys who desperately wanted The Encyclopedia of Immaturity for Christmas last year and who think any joke or skit that involves underwear is classic humor.
Kolbe's birthday will roll around. The gift bags will be purchased and filled. Since I am close friends with the mothers of Kolbe's classmates, the bags will not include some of the more off-color items. But after contemplating fart whistles and fake vomit, suddenly Whoopee cushions sound rather tame and, strangely, almost wholesome.