For parents, who have great memories of innocently playing passing the parcel or musical chairs at a birthday party, the production of their own kids’ parties in the 21st century always comes as a bit of a shock.
Young hosts these days feel compelled to provide tunnels for their little guests to scramble through, or a zorb-ing ball they can tumble in. There may be a magician for entertainment, or a game of dancing statues organised by one screeching parent.
This want of excess of activity, though ridiculous, is not limited to a small circle of privileged parents. Budget bash or not, political correctness in a tender age group requires everyone in the class to be invited, leaving most parents with no choice but to endure what inevitably becomes the most strenuous day of the year.
We philosophically take it in our stride, this feverish merry making on a young one’s birthday. But it’s time some brave parent revolted against the tyranny of the return gift, at least. May he rot in hell, whoever it was who came up with the bright idea that a child must be given something to take home, at the end of the party.
It requires just one parent to buck the trend and face the wrath of the kids, and all the other parents will gladly follow suit. This year I managed to stick to my guns and absolutely refused that other ghastly party tradition of the Khoi bag — the piñata — which has a variety of whistles, toffees and erasers in it, and when burst, sends the kids lunging about in a frenzy.
It also took some arguing to convince my daughter to ditch balloons. I succeeded with the question: where do you think the remnants of the balloons end up? In some poor, unsuspecting, whale’s stomach. However, I quiver with fear at the thought of facing little guests with the shattering news that there’s no take home gift— but I will applaud and support any parent up for this challenge.
I still remember the look of enraged disgust on a child’s face last year when he discovered that the take-home was a mere book wrapped in old newspaper. Since kids have no filters, you know you’ve cracked it with the return gift if a child demands a second one, allegedly, for a sibling. Dismayed with the book, most left theirs behind.
Over the years I have seen some incredible return gifts: a mini golf set, personalised lunch boxes, night suits with names embossed on them, even a goldfish, which I thought was a bit presumptuous. Who needs one more live thing to take care of?
Children’s birthday parties may be filled with good intentions but for the times we live in, they desperately need an update. For example, the cheap Chinese toys and accessories that find their way into piñatas and return gifts are a sharp contrast to what children are being taught about being ecologically conscious.
Those small plastic toys are thoughtless clutter and parents as much as children should cringe when they look at the variety of rubbish that accumulates — as their appalling contribution to landfills and the trash in the sea. There’s really no point in supporting odd-even, or worrying about poor air quality if we’re not willing to make the smallest changes in our own lifestyles. Currently, however, children think it’s their birthright to receive a present at the end of a party.
To tone down expectations around this awful custom will be a task. Of course, my kids accuse me of being cheap and conveniently quoting global warming to worm out of spending. I’m all for the ritual of the party, and the cake, and games. The sooner the better to teach kids, there’s more to a milestone than collecting stuff.