Monday, May 24, 2010

Gifts, Please.

As the list of kids invited to Leah's birthday party inched closer to 20, I started stressing. Not about games, food, or location - thankfully those were easily dealt with.

What I was stressing out about was the gifts. All those gifts. I am not altruistic enough to say "no gifts", not unless we had a specific goal - like friends a few years ago, who asked for small items and used clothing for a close friend to take to Africa.

And I really couldn't imagine having the kids sit through Leah opening 15 presents. It was tough to see ADULTS sitting through that.

Then I stumbled across this etiquette article. Finally, the solution!

Now, in this area of the country, pretty much everyone opens presents at the party - be it a kid's birthday, baby or bridal shower, or wedding (although that might be a separate party). So I felt a little oppositional saying that there would be no gift opening at Leah's party.

The precedence for our family was set by also not opening presents at Ben's party. This actually made things much easier, since those little boys have a tough time paying attention to someone else having all the fun, and I really didn't want 200 plastic dinosaurs strewn across the house. My plan was to have the most fun activity after the cake and singing, to distract from any expectations (do 4 year old boys have any expectations for a birthday party besides friends and treats?!) So the dinosaur excavation outside was perfection.

For Leah's party, we did cupcakes outside, and then a scavenger hunt. What also helped was that I covertly mentioned to most of the moms of invitees to BOTH parties that we would be opening gifts after the party.

Both parties went without a hitch and the kids all had lots of fun. But I've also had a few parents disagree with my new policy. The main pro for opening presents at the party is so that kids who carefully chose the gift for the bud can see them love it.

I get this. I really do. And I wish there was a way to still have that experience - maybe one year I'll take a photo of the kid with each gift as they unwrap it and use that as a thank you note. But here were my own reasons for opening later - and some benefits that I didn't anticipate:

1) No drama. A mom commented, "There wasn't any ISSUES!" What do the tears and arguments usually arrive at a birthday? Right about gift opening time. Probably because that's usually at the end of the party, but also because greed and envy rear their evil heads, and kids just can't hide it very well.

2) No toys being opened willy-nilly. Which is especially beneficial when those toys are Littlest Pet Shop sets that have about a gazillion pieces. Although since each tiny item is lashed down with about 5 ties, the kids would at least be slowed down a bit.

3) Thank you notes are a must. This is mostly for MY benefit - I'm kind of a slacker when it comes to thank you notes. I figure, if we say thank you in person, a card is not really needed. But this way, there is no doubting that they MUST be sent. And Leah wrote out every one of them, to her friends at least. I told her I would do the ones for aunties or uncles. When she complained about being bored, I told her I'd take back the gifts. Guess what? She finished.

And we also made special thank you cards, with a picture of the whole group and one of Leah with her cupcakes. She wrote her little note on the backside of the photo card (5x7).

4) Opportunity for re-gifting. This sounds terrible, I know. It happened that one gift was something that Leah already had, but would be perfect for a party she was attending the next week. And I didn't have time to get to the store. Is this so bad?

5) Calm & collected unwrapping. We had some family over for dinner and cupcakes after the friend party, so Leah opened all the presents from both groups at one time. It was fun! We enjoyed watching her reactions and also getting a chance to really check them out, versus handing out goodie bags and hustling kids out the door.

6) Hilarity. Leah was blessed with wonderful presents. Just about every friend also included a sweet greeting card. The one I remember, however, was from a kindergarten classmate, and it said something like, "You are turning into a lovely young lady, " on the inside. Oh, how we laughed.

Aaron and I got off kinda easy in the whole present department this year, thanks to all those friends. But I still made her these stuffed bookends:

Blossom turned out a little scary looking, but Ruff is pretty darned cute, if I do say so myself. Now Ben wants a set of friendly monsters, but I'll have to make sure they are super strong, since he wants to throw them around!

So where do you stand on all this? Which way do you prefer - gifts during party or gifts after? Why? What do you do about thank you notes? Can you possibly imagine a baby showere where the gifts WEREN'T opened at the festivities? I think there would be a stampede to get to those teesny cute outfits.


Ruth said...

oh, my sister.

i read the same article and had the same reaction: who DOESN'T open their gifts in front of people? are we weird?

but i totally agree that it's a good move for kids parties. adults parties, too. unless there is a fun game. my co-worker is getting married and has multiple bridal showers in multiple regions of the country. her mom's good friend came up with a gift opening game---the person sitting next to the person who GAVE the gift got to open the gift and guess what stacey's reaction would be: pot holders? just what i always wanted! A JUICER! now i will never want for OJ again!

that's kind of a fun way to do it. but wouldn't it be more fun to just hang out and enjoy everyone's company rather than watch them open gifts for an hour?

i'm as surprised as you are that we've never thought of this before. and i LOVE the idea of leah writing on the back of a photo.

yay for liz! positive steps for the mid west!

BlueCastle said...

I read that article a couple of weeks ago and have been mulling it over ever since. When Ryan and I were planning our wedding, I was amazed to discover this tradition of opening presents in front of friends and family after/during the wedding. I'd never heard of that before. We opted to forgo this tradition (we had other places to be ;) ) and instead opened our gifts after we returned from the honeymoon, just the two of us. It was really nice. And there was no pressure to "fake" pleasure at the weird toilet plunger decorated with a miniature bride and groom we received. :) A few years back, we were forced to sit through a gift-opening at a friends' wedding and it was just the most boring thing ever.
This article makes so much sense to me. We don't normally do birthday parties here, but next time the occasion arises, I am definitely implementing this. It's really a terrific idea and makes so much sense.
I bet the kids at your party never even missed it. :)