We got an invitation to my nephew's 5th birthday party yesterday and my son was checking it out excitedly when the following conversation took place:
ME: "What do you think we should get Greggy for his birthday?"
ALEX: "Hmm…How about a gift card?"
I told Alex I thought we could be more creative than that so we brainstormed a little ("cool pool toy" is the current frontrunner) before Nora snatched the invite out of his hands and the two of them wrestled each other to the kitchen floor. The reason Alex suggested a kinda-thoughtless, totally-impersonal gift card: We've been giving quite a few of them out to his friends lately.
Is that a total cop-out? I always feel a bit sheepish as I watch Alex hand over an envelope when other kids are handing over brightly-wrapped packages and bags overflowing with tissue and ribbon. Mind you I have no idea what's in those pretty packages-some of it's re-gifts, I'm sure-and yet they make me feel inferior. Like I couldn't spend the 20 extra minutes it takes to think of an actual present and then execute the buying and wrapping of it. (Problem is it takes me way more than 20 minutes to do anything of note, but that's a different story.) Yes, I realize this is not a matter of life or death but that's not what this blog is about and, well, the gift-card thing has been on my mind lately and I want to get it out there.
I wasn't always a gift-card giver but lately I've embraced it. My kids have had a ton of parties to go to, I've been extra busy (who isn't?) and I just haven't been very good at coming up with suitable ideas (or getting myself to a store that sells said ideas). There's a kiosk at our grocery store that sells gift cards and we've grabbed all kinds-book stores, toy stores, sporting good stores, even Target (I wonder if the mom just keeps those for herself...I probably would!). It's hard to shop for kids when I don't know them and gift cards are so easy-no wrapping required! And when I know the kid, I also know how much crap he already has in his house, and will be getting for the party, and I hesitate to contribute to that unless I have a fantastic idea (when my kids have birthday parties, I have to shelve half the loot for a rainy day.) The real issue is that I aspire to be the kind of person and mom who gives fun, one-of-a-kind, how-did-she-think-of-that?! gifts. I know I have it in me (I've had a few shining moments before) but that instinct/ability has been eclipsed by deadlines and home improvement projects and a general sense of just not giving a crap about certain things right now (i.e., I'm pregnant, it's summer, I'm cutting myself some slack).
Nora had a birthday party a few weeks ago that I almost missed entirely due to the above excuses. She was napping and I had a nagging feeling I was supposed to be somewhere so I checked my daily planner (yep, still have one of those) and I had exactly 15 minutes to get her up, dressed and pumped to play indoor soccer with 20 of her preschool friends. Needless to say, I told the mom we forgot the gift at home in our haste. The truth: I hadn't gotten one yet because I kept passing the gift card kiosk in the grocery store that week thinking, C'mon Erin, you can do better than that. But, alas, I could not. And so the next day, I went back to the store and got the kid got a gift card to Toys R Us.I know I love getting gift certificates to anywhere but do you think four and five year olds get excited when they open a little plastic card? Do they get it? Are you forcing their busy moms and dads to make a special trip to a store to cash in? Are we taking the fun out of presents for them? And not teaching them to like what they get? Or are gift cards no big deal? Do moms and dads love them? (Personally, I think it's great when my kids get them, but what do I know?) Most moms (I hope!) don't really care what their kid gets. I certainly stress to mine that they be grateful for whatever they open, that it's the thought that counts-and we try to donate as many old toys as they receive. But birthday party etiquette is a heated topic and I know there are definitely opinions here. Oh, it should also be said that kids-at least in these parts-do not open their gifts in front of their friends, which I think definitely accounts for some of my unmotivation with this. You're not there to even see if the kid likes what you got him so it doesn't really matter as much does it?
To be honest, I can see all sides of this issue. And I can make a case for any of them. But I know this: Alex recently went to a friend's party and brought a great, actual gift (mask and snorkel and two little reading books about the beach) and it felt good to wrap that one up. After the party, the mom texted me to say that it was her kid's favorite gift. Full disclosure: His mom is a friend of mine and I'd asked if she had any ideas and, well, the mask and snorkel was all her. Still, I ordered the thing (and wrapped it with two different colors of curly ribbon!) and, most important, Alex was super excited about giving such a cool thing to his friend. That's what it should be all about right? Perhaps we'll try a real gift again.
So, am I completely overthinking this? Should I just let it go already? My sister, an overly-scheduled working mother of three, never has any qualms with sticking a gift card into an envelope and calling it a day. Doesn't think twice. Why must I obsess? Would love to know your thoughts on this. Do you ever give gift cards to little kids as presents? What do you think when people give them to your kids? Let's discuss. And if you have any genius, creative, how'd-she-think-of-that? ideas for my five-year-old nephew, let me know!