My daughter turned nine last week, and in the throes of planning her birthday party, the biggest question was not what type of cake to get, or how many pizzas, or what to give as party favors. Rather, the biggest question was: to gift, or not to gift?
The underlying issue here is that we’ve reached a point in our house of Maximum Crapacity. That’s right. The amount of crap that my children own has hit critical mass, and I literally do not have room for a single additional item.
As it is, my son’s staunch refusal to throw away anything – including broken pieces of old, unidentifiable toys – could land him a starring role on that Hoarders show on A&E, and my mother’s recent visit from Florida resulted in my daughter’s floor being absolutely overtaken with shopping bags from Justice. Seriously, I’ve reached the point where I’m ready to take a construction claw to their closets. So when it came time to make the invitations for my daughter’s party, I told her that I wanted to include a line asking for No Gifts, Please. Her response: what’s a party with no gifts? It became, naturally, a Subject Of Heated Debate.
The thing is, though, there is nothing that either of my kids need, and the things they want (laptop, Nintendo DS, Xbox Knect) they’re not going to get as birthday presents from their friends. Which brings me back to the crap issue. Now, I’m not saying that all birthday presents are crap, or that the things people give aren’t lovely and thoughtful and appreciated. They are. It’s just that my daughter doesn’t need any of it. She has enough clothes to fill every closet in my house. If she grew thirty new heads, she still wouldn’t be able to wear all of the Claire’s earrings she has in this lifetime. She has unread books piled ten deep on her nightstand. They would need to change the Top 40 to the Top 1000 in order for her to find enough songs to use up the iTunes gift cards she got for Hanukkah in December. We have drawers filled with bags, scarves, hats, picture frames, potholders, lipgloss, friendship bracelets, bottle cap pins, and flip flops that she’s made herself from those Make Your Own whatever kits, and more drawers filled with the remnants of Spooky/Gross/Sticky/Sweet Science Experiments. We even have a closet where I put birthday presents that haven’t been used yet.
The rule is, if they’re still in the closet by the time Christmas rolls around, I give them away to Toys For Tots. Each year, I end up giving away a lot of presents. And before you start accosting me for spoiling her, please know that ninety percent of this stuff does not come from me, but rather from the doting grandparents and great-grandparents, the aunts and uncles, and the birthday presents from friends.
I know for a fact that we are not the only house at Maximum Crapacity. I have had discussions with other moms about how they have the same closets filled with untouched presents, about how when they ask their children what they want for their birthdays, they’re met with blank stares. About how ridiculous and unnecessary it is for children to have this much stuff, especially when there are so many children who have nothing. But still, to tell a kid no presents on their birthday feels Grinch-like, somehow. Like they’d make a movie about my life called The Mommy Who Stole Birthday Presents.
So, after much discussion, my daughter and I came up with an alternative. To avoid exceeding our Maximum Crapacity level – you know the level; red lights flashing, sirens going off, countdowns to self-destruction beginning – we agreed that she’d give away two old things for every new thing she received. And we did it. It made her happy because she got some new stuff, it made me happy because we got rid of some old stuff, it made some other kids happy who got her old stuff which is practically new, and, it had the added bonus of getting her to clean out her closet.
A happy birthday, indeed.