It is hard for me to make sense of the opulent suburban gift giving. My family never had a lot of money and I remember having one birthday party as a child. My husband is equally uncomfortable with the overly-generous gift giving but that's just because he is a real tight ass when it comes to spending money. (That is kind of mean to say but I'm kind of mad at him right now but that's another blog entry, besides, it is true.) So, instead of birthday gifts I encouraged our little kids to ask for dog and cat food for the local animal shelter.
We don't have birthday parties every year. Our daughter, Randi, is an animal freak and the idea of forfeiting gifts to help animals in the shelter totally worked for her.
Our son, Alex, was a different story. He has had a few more birthday parties than Randi and a few times he really, really needed presents. I think we still have a couple of $25 hunks of plastic from those parties loitering in our basement.
I didn't choose the animal shelter because I am a big "save the puppies" kind of gal, I just didn't want my kids to be getting gifts out the wazoo just for being born. I was unnerved by the piles and piles of gifts that I saw at parties. We were invited to birthday celebrations in our neighborhood that were hours long and one of those hours was spent watching the birthday child open gift after gift after gift.
A few days later we would get a hand written note, obviously from the child, thanking us for our specific gift. I'm not criticizing thank you notes. Despite my backwoods country upbringing, I do know that thank you notes represent good manners, but I couldn't get my kids to sit still for twenty seconds on the toilet let alone get them to sit still at a table and scribble out twenty thank you notes.
The whole birthday party gift giving thing intimidated me. So asking for pet food was my way of avoiding that scene. Asking for donations was met with lots of comments, mostly positive. Although one mother said her older son had seen the invitation on the refrigerator and kept asking, "What kind of kid doesn't want birthday presents?"
But my departure from the excess of suburban birthday gift giving has an interesting twist. My lovely over-achieving suburban party guests brought bags and bags and bags of food for the animals. When we drove up to the animal shelter with our bootie the employees and volunteers were shocked at the amount of food and supplies that we delivered. They were very appreciative, took pictures of our kids and heaped tons of praise on them.
In a way, we were making our own little suburban scene. I realize now that we were the stereotypical over-achieving family but instead of a mountain of gifts we had a mountain of smelly dog and cat food which is kind of obnoxious, in it's own way, too.