The Hess Report


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Better Idea for Kids' Birthday Parties 

Maddie just had a rocknologous birthday party at Lucky Strike Lanes (Upscale Bowling!), courtesy of my brother-in-law, who is the Executive Chef at their Pittsburgh location. It really was a blast - way more kids than we had room for at a home-hosted party, nice atmosphere, and, well, bowling!

I think that Maddie had ten (eleven? twelve? Help me out, oh gracious editor!) of her friends there, plus a couple of stragglers. Of course, that meant at least ten presents from friends. Which is just fracking ridiculous.

Now, I understand how it works. Everyone goes to everyone else's birthday party, and the kid gets between six and twelve $10-20 gifts (although it's been creeping upwards lately, due to mommy-competition) from their attending friends. My question: why do we need to do this? It's not like any of these kids, including my own, need this kind of windfall. Most kids that I know today have, in a very literal way, more toys than they know what to do with. It's not like these kids' (including, once again, my own) parents and grandparents don't already shower them with a cornucopia of material wealth on their birthdays.

The kids birthday party is way overplayed. I'm sick of it.

There is word for the gratuitous accumulation of material goods: greed.

But, my kid's not greedy!

Right. Maybe not yet.

Here's the thing. As human beings, there is a vast range of things in which we can find joy and pleasure. Sometimes things are very easy to find joy in: getting a nice present, eating something delicious, having someone pretty fall in love with you. Some things are impossible for most of us to conceive of as joyful, but have perversely brought happiness to some: the industrialized murder of millions of Jews during WWII no doubt brought great happiness to the upper echelons of the Nazi party. But there are a host of other things that can bring us a sense of joy that we have to work for: building a strong family, winning a big game, working hard on a creative endeavor and seeing it pay off.

The easy things are like candy. It's not bad in and of itself, but if that is all you ever eat, you know what will happen. In addition to getting fat, you body will only able to react to an immediate sugar high of new consumption and less able to respond to the finer pleasures of an elegantly prepared meal.

In this area, we are feeding our kids nothing but candy. It's hurting them. And it's wrong.

A Kid's Birthday Party Proposal

Given That:

1. Modern middle class children already have more toys, clothes and material goods than they can conceivably use, and

2. These children will receive absolutely everything they need as gifts from their immediate and extended families on their birthdays and other gift giving holidays, and

3. We have a duty to teach our children to extract joy from life in ways other than the most simple and immediate,

I propose that:

1. All further kid's birthday party invitations contain the phrase (adapted appropriately): "In lieu of purchasing a present for (Maddie/Billy/Rashad), please have your child bring a (fleece blanket/pair of mittens/x cans of soup) that (Maddie/Billy/Rashad) will take to (local outreach charity) for donation."

2. A moment is taken to at the party to explain to the kids where the donations will go, and to thank them for helping.

3. Any presents that an enterprising parent ties to slip through (I just wanted her to have something to open!) will be retained, unopened, and donated to a local church's Christmas gift drive.

4. The parents take the birthday child to the local outreach center (if it's in a safe neighborhood), and let the child personally carry (if it's not too heavy) and donate the items.

Could our local North Hills Community Outreach have used $200 worth of blankets, hats and mittens more than Maddie needed some new toys? You're damned right, they could have. How many more parties will Maddie and Lucy go to in the coming year? Seven? Eight? Could the NHCO use that $100 worth of food more than the party kids could use a fairy coloring set or another action figure? The answer is obvious.

There are parents who will say: "But my kid loves that part of the party!" Well, they love candy, too, but should you let them gorge themselves sick on it? Right.

And this isn't to say that long-time playmates or a kid's best friend can't give them a birthday present. They can. But a present from a best friend will mean so much more when given and received apart from the wild excesses of a kid's party, don't you think?

So this idea of mine... just try it. Kids, unless they've already been spoiled by this kind of greed, are incredibly reasonable about this sort of thing and actually like the thought that they are helping people less fortunate than them. If your kid balks at this notion (and I mean, really really pitches a fit), then you need to ask yourself "What have I done?" And if mommy-competition (a scientifically documented fact, by the way) kicks in and kids start bringing two blankets instead of one, then all the better.

Please try it. If you have kids and think this is a good idea, I encourage you to send a link to this post to other parents you know who might find it interesting. I'm pushing for it at our house. I'll let you know what happens.

Comments:
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I think this is a fantastic idea. If I were you I'd spread it around the North Hills to hopefully abate the rapidly growing trend of materialism that seems to have taken root in that area. I know you live there, and I hate to say it, but the North Hills is the worst example of greed and blind consumerism in all of Pittsburgh. A little charity would do it some good.
 
I'm all for it! You can also include Christmas parties to that idea.....gather together and bring items for those in need.

When you invite me to your daughter's future birthday parties, I will gladly bring something to be donated, but I also plan to bring a special gift for the birthday girls, since they are my grandaughters.

Let me know if you want to get together and discuss Christmas...I'm open for a change....we still have time. At least I do because I don't begin Christmas shopping until after all the wonderful Novemember birthdays in our family (6) Love,Mom
 
A great idea- although I have no children, just a dog, and he's been playing with the same toys for three years now. Good boy. To really jumpstart this trend, you will have to take donation items to "consummerist" birthday parties, too. When the confused eight-year-old starts to tear up and her mom glares at you, simply explain to them the joy of giving to those who truly are in need (the candy analogy). If you are lucky, the angry mom will donate all of her now angry daughter's presents to charity. If you're really lucky, you won't get invited to the party next year.
 
With Nadia's third birthday party coming up and the dreaded influx of unwanted toys, I was quite excited by this idea, but alas, I couldn't get buy-in from the wife.
 
I read this to my daughter who said (talking about my Granddaughter): " You wouldn't do that to your own Granddaughter, would you?"

Trying to lay an instant guilt trip on me. I replyed, "If we don't do something soon, we are going to have to build a new room on the house to hold all her crap".

She had no answer and just walked away.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA
 
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