Yesterday was Emilia’s birthday. She asked for Zhu Zhu Pets and a guitar. “Because I’m going to be a rock star when I grow up, Mommy, and the Zhu Zhu pets are going to live in my pockets, so I can play the guitar with them.” I didn’t tell her that aspiring rockers usually keep rats in their pockets. We have no room for any more feral creatures in this house.
(Do you know Zhu Zhu Pets? I had no idea until a few weeks ago, when Emilia started asking for them. They’re basically, like, robotic hamsters. Seriously. My first thought when she opened them was, oh, okay. So they’re robotic hamsters. Which means, some of the charm of hamsters without the hamster shit and all that shredded newspaper. I can live with that. Then I realized: THEY’RE ROBOTIC HAMSTERS. I’m pretty sure that robotic hamsters are mentioned specifically in the Book of Revelations as harbingers of the coming apocalypse. Or maybe it was The Apocalyptic Gospel According To James Cameron. I can’t quite remember. Doesn’t matter. HAMSTER ROBOTS.)
We only got Emilia a couple of gifts, because we’re trying to manage consumption around here, and toys and other kid-related what-nots are among the most-consumed items in our household, and the items that contribute most to clutter and mess and (for me) Post-Africa Affluence Guilt (PAAG). I’ve met and held children who have, quite literally, nothing other rope and old bicycle tires to play with, and that absolutely puts a damper on my enthusiasm for shopping at Toys R Us. So I told Emilia that she could ask for two special things, and she asked for a set of hamster robots and a guitar, and she got her hamster robots and a guitar, and that was that.
Until the birthday party.
This is going to sound totally disingenuous, but I had given absolutely no thought to the toy scrum that is a five year old’s birthday party. My husband, bless his heart, had made all the arrangements (sports and crafts at a local community centre) and, with Emilia’s help, put together the guest list and made the invitations while I hosted a conference and then got depressed and then got an eye infection and then took to my bed and moaned insufferably. I didn’t think to annotate the invitations with no gifts please or please donate in Emilia’s name or please just bring a lovely book of your child’s choice or anything else that might have served to redirect the gift-giving away from any and all paths leading to TOY SCRUM: REVENGE OF THE TOYS.
It is, of course, wonderful that children so exult in gift-giving. Emilia, when she attends a friend’s birthday, begins planning her gift the moment that she receives the invitation, and hand-makes the card and includes her own hand-crafted token of love and seals it all with stickers and delivers it to the party with all the gravity of a courtier bearing crown jewels. And all of that gift-glee is great and all, but if you’ve ever borne witness to a horde of small children surrounding one of their own while that she opens birthday gifts, you know that it can, at times, remind one of a shark-feeding. Wrapping paper? Ribbons? Concealing toys? BLOOD IN THE WATER!
(I wrote an academic paper, once, on Derrida, Bataille and Mauss and contemporary practices of gift-exchange. I could now write a whole book on children and birthday parties and the Ritual Swarming Of The Child With The Presents, and how it calls to mind ancient rites of sacrifice to divinities, but with cake and balloons.)
A birthday party yields a lot of gifts, and Emilia now has a pile of new and lovely toys and we are faced with the following dilemma: how to reinforce the message – the message that we have been working so, so hard to instill – that more toys does not equal better and that she can be, will be, just as happy with less, while still honoring the gifts and their givers?
Our solution is this: her lovely collection of brand-new toys is being put away, to be dipped into slowly and selectively and with the following proviso – that for every new birthday toy that she withdraws from the collection, she selects one of her other toys to give away, to a toy bank or the like. She gets to slow down and appreciate each gift, one at a time, and, hopefully, internalizes the message that receiving and giving go hand-in-hand and that slow and steady and less are very often better, much better, than fast and all-at-once and more.
What do you think? What would you have done? What DO you do to teach your children restraint and gratitude, to encourage an appreciation of what they already have and a willingness to – when necessary, when desirable – make do with less rather than more?
AND… here’s a rare thing… I’m giving away a Windows Phone 7. Leave a comment on this post between now and November 29 – and you can leave a comment every day! so! – and one commenter will be randomly picked to receive a brand new and totally awesome Windows phone.
I’ll be donating my phone, per my own guidelines for that kind of stuff (or, if it turns out that I love it more than my iPhone, making an in-kind donation). Canadians – (the shame the shame the shame) – can’t win the phone (see rules here), but to make up for that I’ll select some Canadians from among you (identify yourselves in the comments) and – seriously – send you chocolate. GOOD chocolate. Which, sometimes, is better than a phone, really. Leave a comment on Katie’s post at The Bad Moms Club, and you’ll have another shot at the phone, or at more chocolate. (Chocolate!)
(CUE DISCLOSURE: This giveaway is brought to you by the new Windows Phone 7. Less MIA. More PTA. Learn more about Windows Phone online and see it in person at local T-Mobile/Rogers/Bell/Telus stores today.) (Here’s a paper or post to be written: The Internet Comment As Virtual Gift: On A Derridean Politics Of Discursive Exchange; or, IMMA LEAVE A COMMENT GET A PHONE WHEE!)
So, comment and win! You should totally just comment for the sake of commenting, though. Not for the exchange value. Don’t make me go all German Idealist on you.
Thanks for participating, everyone: the winner of the phone is Kari Baumann! And chocolate goes to Laura B. Enjoy!