Thursday, June 21, 2007

And So It Begins

Summer, that is. It's here and we're still adjusting. First at bat: swimming lessons. I've signed the kids up for swimming lessons the first two weeks of summer. They go everyday for 2 weeks. Sort of an intense, immersion style as opposed to what we did before, which was twice a week for a month or so. This will be Day 4, and so far it's going well. Nicholas is *almost* over his disappointment that he has to repeat his level, Starfish, strictly due to his age. You see, Starfish is the top level for kids 3-5 yrs. He passed Starfish after the last session, but because he wasn't 6 when this round of lessons started (his birthday is exactly halfway through the session - this Sunday - but that wasn't close enough for the schedule nazi at our Y. That would be my boss, by the way....) they wouldn't let me enroll him in the next higher level. Lauren, on the other hand, also passed her level last time and has progressed from Pike to Eel. The fact that SHE got enrolled in the higher level when he did not pissed him off to no end. I've had to endure numerous rounds of "no fair!" and "why does SHE get to move up and I don't??" leading up to the start of swimming lessons.

But then they started, and all was OK in the pool. New teachers, you see, who do things differently. And therefore, teach different stuff. For as much as I like my YMCA, I notice rather large differences in what is taught in various classes depending on the teacher. And what's more, there seems to be no standardization or training of the instructors, really. So, what is deemed "starfish" level by one teacher is not even close to what another teacher might decide is appropriate Starfish swimming. The teacher Nicholas has this time is really working with him on technique, and that's a good thing. She's been focusing on back stroke and using the floating "noodles" to really get the kids to work on their arms and/or kicks. I'm noticing big improvements already, despite the fact that Nicholas technically passed this level last time. And Lauren, who is just happy to be in the water, is working hard, too. I wasn't sure she was really ready for Eel, but Pike was all full through July, so Eel it is! She's keeping up, mostly, and having fun. Thankfully, she has no fear of the water and will willingly put her face (and whole head) in the water and come back up smiling. It's her cheerful temperament that sees her through life. If you were to ask Lauren if she can swim she'll immediately answer, "yes, I can! Except in the deep water. You need to hold my hand in the deep water." Her goal is to be able to slide down the slide into the deep water and swim to the side of the pool, just like Nicholas.

And speaking of swimming, Nicholas is having a swimming party for his 6th birthday. The festivities are on Saturday. He's beside himself with excitement. He counts down the number of days until his party, and the number of days until we can make his cake. He's like a little yappy dog that can't sit still and bounces all around your legs. Because we're having a "big" party for him (i.e. he got to invite more friends that the number of years old he's turning) I made an executive decision that he's not happy about. There will be 8 friends coming to his party, plus his sister. I feel that that's just too many presents when you factor in all the family gifts he'll be getting as well. Gluttonous. A ridiculous amounts of gifts. And so, on his invitation, I said that instead of bringing a gift just for Nicholas, please bring something small and unisex (under $10) for a gift exchange game with all the kids. That way, every kid will get a semi-decent gift, we'll have a fun activity, and Nicholas will still get one "friend" present. And, I won't have to do gift bags for all the kids, which I personally hate. I really hate gift bags and all the cheap crap they contain. I don't like that junk in the house and feel it's a huge waste of money.

But Nicholas isn't as sold on the gift exchange idea as I am (and most of the other parents). We recently attended a party for some twins in his class. They went to a very popular party place and there were 24 kids in attendance. 24. For twins. Which meant twice as many gifts. It was so over-the-top! There were nearly 50 gifts that had to be opened. Nicholas' eyes about bulged out of his head at the sight of it all. Seeing all that made him whine and moan even harder about only getting one friend gift when these two friends got so many - each! I just don't think my child needs that kind of quantity - each item then loses it's specialness and value. I'd rather he remember each gift he receives and focus on enjoying his friends' company at the party instead of all the gifts. And what Nicholas doesn't know is that Mr. Chick and I have caved completely and gotten him a GameBoy for his birthday. His grandfather is getting credit for getting him 5 games (he sent me a check and I went shopping on his behalf). Everything is reconditioned, but in beautiful shape that you'd never know it wasn't brand new. He's been wanting a handheld game for literally years. He's sort of outgrowing the child watch center at the YMCA, and he could bring his game along with him when we go there. Also, in the car on trips. And, my only rationale, is that by giving him the GameBoy I also reserve the right to take away the GameBoy if he misbehaves. THAT'S one helluva bargaining chip. So Nicholas will be having a smashing birthday, even if his mother is being stingy and only letting him receive one measly friend gift instead of 8.

What do you think? Is my gift exchange idea mean and cruel, or do you agree that it's one way of reigning in the gluttony. Am I being a buzz-kill, or teaching an appropriate values lesson?

Can I fall in the middle somewhere? I think that for an adult -- it is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. A very good values lesson.

But from a kid's perspective it probably would probably suck. I guess I see it as a once a year thing -- and that part of birthday parties is the giving and opening of the gifts. But 50 gifts? Holy smokes!

I'm the same with goodie bags. I HATE them -- but I know kids love them. So I usually put all the pieces to make a craft in there -- plus a bag of M&Ms or something. So it looks like a lot -- but it's really only one thing!

I hope it's OK to disagree -- I always get a little nervous disagreeing on someone's blog!
Absolutely cool to disagree! I asked for it - opinions, that is, so I want to hear it. I tend to second-guess myself on this sort of stuff. Part of me feels good about striking a balance of fun and excess and teaching moderation, but then another part of me identifies with the inner kid and feels crappy about dampening his fun. I guess that's just how parenting goes most days. My guess is that he'll be so blown away with the GameBoy that he'll completely forget to be upset by having to "share" gifts via gift exchange.

Hope your summer is off to a good start!
Hmm, I have to tell you I went and thought about this for a few hours deciding how I felt about it. I too want to teach my son that excess is a bad thing especially in this day and age. However I guess I am going to have to agree with the PP. Where I disagree is that his birthday is very public, vs private moral lessons at home. Children are very cruel without truly meaning to be, and any deviation to the norm is a possible target for cruelness. Like it or not. I can see a parent making an off hand comment and their child repeating it to Nicholas. Or worse yet a child saying something really innocent and mean at the same time like doesn’t your mom think you deserve presents? Or What did you do to get your presents taken away? They just don’t understand because it is the norm for kids to get gifts at their birthday party. For kids any deviation to the norm is something to question and possibly pick on. I guess I would have to throw in the gift bags here too. While you may not like them it is not your party. The party is for Nicholas and his friends. That is not to say you need to fill them with crap or even have bags involved. I *loved* you idea last year of giving each child a cape and am even using that idea for my sons birthday this year (he wants it to be a superhero party). Brilliant!
I have a soon to be 5 year old and he knows that he only gets new toys at Christmas and his birthday (in July). I make sure he gets the things that are really important to him and while I don’t go crazy he is indulged on those two occasions. When people ask me what he wants I tell them (please note I *only* do this if people ask). That way he gets less stuff he doesn’t need and want. He has about 25% of the amount of toys most of his friends have but is really happy with what he has because he gets what he wants. Also there is not whining or begging, he is now old enough to say “Mom can you put this toy on my Christmas list because I would like it.” At Christmas or his birthday I ask him to prioritize the list and he usually gets most the top toys but never all of them.
I am not saying what I did is right or for everyone or that you should try it. You are his mother and will know what is best for your family.
Now having said all of that, having 25 people at a party for twins is outrageous! As a mother I would never have invited that many people as the number of people is indulgent. I would keep the number small and instead of limiting gifts limit the number of friends and let Nicholas choose who comes. That way he is in control.
Just my $.02
Hi MP,

I have to go with the other writer and say that I am in between. I limit the number of kids we invite and actually invite more sibling groups (have son and daughter 3 years apart - lots of friends with kids both our kids ages)in hopes that they only bring one gift (they usually do). I do not invite the whole class. I also don't believe in birthday presents over $10. However, birthdays come by once a year. It does kind of sound like "Mommy Dearest" when Joan Crawford only let Christina keep one present and then give away all the others to charity. Christina ended up being really promicious as a teenager - not sure if the issues are related!

I would like to offer advice on the GameBoy. Decide right now how many hours a week he can play it and then get a roll of tickets, each ticket is 30 minutes. Trust me on this otherwise he will want to play all day and will get all zombie like and will never want to ride his bike again. I recommend 6 hours a week (my son is almost 8 though). Seriously, decide this before you give it to him.
good call on limiting the hours of GameBoy time in advance! We sort of do that now - Nicholas "earns" tv and computer time with "reward points" (aka plastic poker chips), each worth 15 min. of time. He has to make his bed for one, put his backpack/coat/shoes away for another, feed the dog, etc. When he does stuff he shouldn't, he loses a reward point. The system is working so far. But what you describe: the hours of play, the zombie, is exactly what I fear. He'll get extra playing time for the first few days because it's new! and exciting! and I'm not the complete ogre I may seem like with the gift exchange! but then we'll ratchet down to a reasonable amount of game playing time.

I'm hoping - it's my plan - that the way I'll structure the game of gift exchange is that it will be like most parties with the giving and opening of gifts. The children will sit in a circle with the wrapped gifts in the middle. They'll pass something around (TBD) while music plays and whoever is holding the object when the music stops will pick out a gift and sit with it while the game continues. When everyone has their gift we'll let each child open theirs and see what they got. I'm hoping for "that ones from me!" and "ooh - let me see that!" kind of responses. Then there'll be time to play with the toys, etc. and a few more games that the YMCA staff are in charge of before the cake and ice cream part. So hopefully the kids will notice a difference, but not to the point of poking fun at Nicholas because they will be benefiting by getting a gift themselves. Then again, maybe I live in my own utopia.... but yeah, now I'm wondering if this was perhaps a mistake. Normally we keep his parties small and he gets gifts from the guests, etc. but this year, with a larger guest list, I wanted to reign it all in. He has SO MANY family presents coming that it just seemed so excessive... swimming/pool party on Saturday, family BBQ on Sunday. A whole weekend of festivities.

I'll do my very best to make it a very fun, special party for him.
Oh, I am so with you on this one! I agree completely with the idea of a gift exchange and thereby limiting the number of gifts he receives. Too many kids these days get SO many gifts for every occasion, be it Christmas or their birthday. I know my nieces and nephew do, and they don't take care of any of them. I think it's because, like you said, they have so many that they lose their specialness. It's just another toy. This drives me nuts!!!

I have two boys, so you can imagine how many trucks etc. we would have if I let him have extravagant parties and such. I believe in teaching kids values like this.

I also HATE, HATE HATE goodie bags. I won't make them, and I hate receiving them. What a waste of money indeed!
I am so glad I wasn't offensive. I also wanted to add that I don't think you've made a mistake at all -- I think the other kids are going to think it's way cool that they get presents. So there's no need for goody bags either. And you're right - Nicholas will likely freak at the Game Boy thing!
I like the idea of the gift exchange.... I hate the goodie bag thing too.

My first reaction, I may borrow your idea of the gift exchange for N's next birthday... My second reaction, I don't know if N would be crushed. My third reaction, they have SOOOO much, a gift exchange sounds fun and would start teaching good values.


Sign me, Torn here.
Ok, so here's my 2 cents. What I've been trying to do with my kids the last couple years is to give them an "experience" of their choice as their birthday present from me and their dad. For my son, it was an expensive party with his preschool pals at one of those play zone places (in lieu of a small - and cheap - family party at home which is what I would have done for a 3 year old). For my daughter we're taking her to the American Girl place for lunch and to get her doll's hair styled. My daughter did also have a party but she's 8 and I feel like having a party with your friends is important at that age. Since the kids don't get official "presents" from us, they do get presents from their friends at the party. Also, they have extended family who give them presents and with these, I can kind of direct them to appropriate gifts - a combination of things that are needed like clothes and things that are wanted like Thomas the Tank Engine trains. I can't very well give suggestions to the parents of my kids' friends although wouldn't it be nice to be able to do that? (Incidentally, I try to ask parents when I RSVP to a party if there is anything in particular they would like for their child just so the kid gets something he/she really wants). As for goody bags, I tend to do a gift for each child (in the $6-$8 range) so that every kid gets one thing they hopefully like and that won't be total junk. Although this is expensive it's not too terrible because I have only had parties with 8 - 12 kids. Plus, once you start buying all that crap for the typical goody bag it averages out to that amount anyway.

The upshot of this whole birthday thing is that it still costs me an arm and a leg and since I now have a third child I'm not sure I'll be able to maintain it all. However, my kids love, love, love their birthdays and I love the idea that they will be creating memories with the experiences they choose. While my son's choice of a playzone party wouldn't have been mine, he's only 3 so I can't blame him. As for my daughter I can't wait to bring her to the American Girl place and I love that it will be a special time for us.

To be honest, I like your idea of the gift exchange instead of presents for just the birthday child but I think I would feel kind of bad that my child didn't get the typical birthday loot that they expect from a party. I honestly dread trying to figure out where to put all the new toys and with my daughter I despised some of the presents she received(i.e., Bratz dolls) but it's sort of a necessary evil of the birthday experience in our family.

Sorry to be long-winded. I'm curious to hear how it turns out. By the way, I'm sure Nicholas will have a great birthday. During the party, my kids don't care about the gifts at all because they're too busy having fun. Then when the party's over he'll have his Gameboy and that will make up for any missed presents from his friends.

Take care,

Amy in NJ
I think birthday parties can be quite excessive, too, MP; but I haven't been able to take the "gifts" part away because, well, they're just kids and part of the fun of birthdays is opening the presents.

To avoid collecting too many toys we make a deal that my daughter will donate some of her "old" but not broken toys to Goodwill to make room for the new ones.

I also hate the goodie bags with cheap toys, so I usually give them one big item, like this year at the riding stables I gave them all cowboy hats. That, paired with the candy from the pinata and the craft that they made was plenty!
A friend did the gift (actually, book)exchange, but that was when the whole class was invited.
8 bday gifts doesn't feel like that big of a deal to me - it's his bday after all- but 25/kid made me want to barf. THAT mom should've done the gift exchange! And, can you imagine the thank you notes?
Totally agree on the goodie bags. You can always give a cute favor that is related to the party, though. A noodle per kid since it's a swim party, etc (can even get them at the dollar store).
Am a little weirded out at the idea of a kid turning 6 who has wanted a video game machine for YEARS!!??
What's up w/ that? I have 5 kids, 2-12, and they didn't have a concept of those things until about 8. How did he get so interested in those by age 3?
Yeah, since about BIRTH Nicholas has always been into games and electronics. He has a freakishly advanced ability in these areas - always has. We let him play a few toddler-type games on the computer when he was two and it just clicked with him: 1-handed point-and-click abilities with the mouse, able to launch a browser, etc. all by the age of 2.5 yrs. It's gone from there.

He's been around lots of kids his age or even younger who have GameBoys. His cousins, for example, and his friends. I don't allow him to play on the computer when he has a friend over for a playdate, but not every mother is the same and he'll play with other kids' hand-held video games at their houses. He also sees them at the YMCA when other kids bring them in. They're everywhere. What he's been asking for is a Leapster hand-held, but we found this reconditioned GameBoy on EBay instead. So he started asking for a Leapster for Christmas '05, then last birthday (age 5), then last Christmas '06, and now this birthday. It's been the consistent top item on his list, and his list isn't that long. So we're getting it for him - about 1.5 yrs after he started asking for it. He's even priced them in the store so he could buy it with his own money if he doesn't get one - he's THAT committed. Last year, he got a fish. This year, the GameBoy. He's waited long enough
Oh yes, the Gameboy! I'm not sure where anon lives, but most kids around here are very aware of gameboys at a very young age. My friend's kids had one at about 2 or 3 yr. We got one for B this past Xmas, so he was 2 months shy of 7, and I'd say almost every single one of his friends had one for at least a year before he got one. Part of me didn't want to cave into the pressure, but part of me wants him to fit in and be like the other kids. video games and computers are a part of life these days, WAY more than when we were kids. And I remember when Atari first came out and I'd sit there for hours playing. It is just trying to make sure it doesn't become an obsession. Those first few days I did let him play it a lot, trying to get it out of his system. Now, he really only uses the gameboy on trips in the car. So, it isn't out of the ordinary that Nicholas wants a Gameboy. It is only natural..

I'm torn on the gift exchange idea also. To me, sounds great, but I'd feel bad for my kids so I'd probably not do it. But I'm a softie that way :) I can totally see the benefit of it, but my kids would probably be crushed and I want them to have a special day. I am actually planning J's b-day right now and we are only inviting like 5 people so my plan is to try to keep them small, with only close friends. I have also been to the parties where there are 20 plus kids and that gets out of hand. Are they really close friends with 20 kids??? That is insane.

Hope he has a great birthday.
I've also heard of "in lieu of a gift, please bring an unwrapped toy (canned food items,etc.) for (insert charity here)". I really like your gift exchange idea. I think it could really catch on. But then... I'm one who likes to pick out what toys come into my house.... I'm not above telling people what he's interested in, they usually thank me for it - I even occasionally tell them where they can find it for under $10, I'm so bad... but they always get it and are happy to get him what he wants (usually science related things they would never think of on their own.)

Gift bags, hate them. I do give them out at our parties though, but here is my trick. Go to Micheal's Craft store. Visit the $1 bins. Check them all year long (great for stocking stuffers also). In fact just recently I found these great all wooden vehicle model kits. The finished model was bigger than my hand, think soap box derby car. They came with all the pieces to build the various vehicles, plus sand paper, glue and paint. For $1. I just wrapped them up and each kid got to go home with one. And it cost me way less than what I see other people spending on the crappy standard goody bag stuff. I also found little cans of glow in the dark bracelets, 15 in each box, for $1. Target works well for this too. The birthday party I threw today for my nephew - take home prizes were 7 piece sand toy sets, each only $1.
I was popping in to see how the birthday party went. Really curious. Recently I took Faith to a preschool friend's bday party and, seriously, with family and friends the presents were piled on a 5-6' long table stacked atleast 3 gifts high. I'm guessing 50 gifts. What little girl needs that many gifts? What parent wants to deal with all that stuff?? I too HATE goodie bags, but I do give them too (and apologize to parents when passing them out!) I think all parents have an extreme dislike for them. It's crap and something else to pick-up. Kinda like happy meal toys.
I had mixed feelings too about the gift exchange. When I was a kid I was traumatized by my birthday. My birthday is 17 days after my sister's so we had to share a party (and it was a month after Christmas) We only got to invite a few friends each because it was a shared party, it was never on my birthday, somewhere inbetween and very down played b/c it was close to Christmas. It never felt like "my day". I was worried about Nicholas getting a crappy present that he didn't really want and lusting after a gift that some other kid received in the gift exchange and would feel cheated because that kid, in all reality got HIS birthday gift. I agree that birthday's have become over kill. It seems that parents are striving to have the party of all parties and I honestly think it's become too much. My days are numbered, since Faith will be starting school soon and be invited to her school friends parties. But we have always kept her parties family only so the presents are really minimal. Maybe 10 gifts. I also have a rule - no stuffed animals please. (You can tell family this and they won't be offended ;) The bonus for us is, her birthday is in the summer and therefore 7 months after Christmas and it's in the middle of summer so we aren't required to invite the entire class. There is a rule at school that if you pass out party invites at school, you must invite the entire class. Sorry but 22 kids is WAAAYYYY too many.
Anyway, hope the party went well and the gift exchange was a hit. And a big Happy Birthday to Nicholas. Can't believe he is 6!!!
MP, I love your idea about the gift exchange! I agree with your reasoning 150% and now want to do this for my children's birthdays. Actually my birthday party is coming up and I am thinking of telling friends I'd rather do a gift exchange then regular gifts (which I often end up returning to the store).

Don't doubt yourself - your child will enjoy birthday activities, cake and friends, presents shouldn't be key to their birthday happiness.
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