Monday, September 05, 2011

On Birthdays and Boy Humor

Birthdays around here begin in late July and continue through early November. Ainsley just turned two, and John hit four. Being so young has one pivotal advantage: Their birthday expectations remain low. Blissfully unaware that birthdays should have themes and that gifts can be expensive, they love the boxes as much as the presents and find joy in the simplest second-hand goodies. This year John wanted a castle cake that proved to be a little too much for my baking skills. The ramparts were crumbling, the walls were cracking, and John thought the whole thing just rocked.

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:
  1. Alien test tube slime.
  2. Fart whistles. New this year!
  3. Wind-up crawling fingers.
  4. Gummy flesh fries. No, that's not a typo. Great finger food, according to the ad. Watermelon-flavored and fat-free!
  5. Whoopee cushions. Of course.
  6. 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.


Anonymous said...

We love whoopee cushions around here - potty humor does often get laughs in our house (and not just from the kids). But if you decide to buck the system and forgo goodie bags, I'll 2nd that motion - or will it be emotion - and do the same for Lawrence's birthday. I'll admit to disliking the whole "goodie bag" thing, too, because I have 2 - and soon enough 3 (excuse me and make that 4 because the birthday boy doesn't want to feel left out) - children who also feel entitled to the "goodie bag". Ugh! Well, good luck! And we'll see you tomorrow at school! ~Laura A.

Kelly said...

Yes - This is half the problem with the bags. You include your other kids and the numbers grow.

And we never end up with some clean number like 8 or 10 guests that would make it easy to split a big bag 'o junk.

Mothers united against gift bags!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kelly - (thanks very much for your extremely comforting comment by the way!)

I'm interested to hear about this, because I'd assumed that the Party Bag (UK) was just in Britain. Silly me - it's such a money-spinner of course it would cross the Atlantic! It's a complete minefield here too. When my daughter has had parties, we've made "party cones" from paper we decorated ourselves, and filled them with inexpensive things like pencils and such, also sweeties. I've involved her in budgeting and shopping for the party bags. Here the cake is usually cut and given to the guests to put in their party bag, which I think is very weird, so we've always served cake and ice cream for immediate consumption and not take-away.

The one comfort I can offer you is that when they get into their teens, here at least party bags are too babyish.

I hate the sense of entitlement that children seem to be raised with these days, and I hate how complicit I seem to be in it as well. I have actually heard children complain loudly about unsatisfactory party bags as they leave a party! We've had quite a few conversations at our house (with our children) about all this.